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Friday, August 12, 2011

Rick Perry Will Beat Romney & Become GOP Front Runner; Victim Of Gay Smear Campaign? (Videos)

Enter Rick Perry, Formidable Fund-Raiser

When Gov. Rick Perry of Texas arrives in South Carolina on Saturday to begin his presidential campaign, he might claim any number of credentials for the country’s top office: Creator of jobs. Cutter of taxes. Defender of gun rights.

But it is a credential Mr. Perry is unlikely to highlight that could make him the most formidable entrant into the Republican primary so far: he is among the top political fund-raisers in the country, with a vast network of wealthy supporters eager to bankroll his presidential ambitions, and he has the potential to energize a Republican donor class that has shown only limited enthusiasm for the candidates already in the race.

In three campaigns for governor, Mr. Perry has raised $102 million, including more than $39 million during his successful 2010 bid for re-election. The Republican Governors Association, of which Mr. Perry is chairman, raised a record $22.1 million during the first half of this year. And in recent months, even as the candidate himself was coy about his presidential ambitions, Mr. Perry’s campaign finance operation has shifted into high gear, holding meetings around the country with dozens of the party’s top uncommitted donors, some of whom have already pledged to raise money for him.

“He is the most successful fund-raiser in the history of Texas politics,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a watchdog organization that tracks campaign spending. “He may be the best in the country. He will have no trouble raising the money he needs for his presidential campaign.”

People familiar with Mr. Perry’s plans say that he would aim to raise up to $10 million within a few weeks of formally entering the race, twice as much as any Republican candidate except for Mitt Romney has raised all year. Mr. Perry’s top “bundlers”— supporters who gather checks from friends, family members and business associates — could be asked to raise as much as $250,000 each, though campaign officials said that hard targets were still in flux.

To jump-start his fund-raising, Mr. Perry will hold events in nine cities between Aug. 29 and Sept. 1, according to an e-mail sent to his top donors Thursday afternoon.

“We are trying to get in the first million dollars of contributions very rapidly, to give the campaign its initial capital so important to get off the ground well,” wrote George Seay, Mr. Perry’s Texas finance chairman.

“From a fund-raising point of view, he looks very formidable,” said Barry D. Wynn, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party and a top fund-raiser for former president George W. Bush. “He’s battle tested with regards to his gubernatorial race. And I think a number of the people who have been pretty successful raising money for other campaigns are people he’s been able to make contact with.”

Last month, about two dozen current and potential Perry supporters met in Austin with members of the governor’s fund-raising team to discuss a potential run, many of them donors who supported the presidential bids of Mr. Bush or former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York in 2008. Mr. Perry’s aides did not ask for specific dollar commitments at the meeting, participants said, but several volunteered anyway.

“A number of people just volunteered that they were going to do their part in L.A. or San Diego or Palm Beach or Philadelphia or New York,” said Mr. Wynn. “Without being asked, they said, ‘We can do it.’ ”

Mr. Perry’s strength as a fund-raiser reflects, in large part, his lengthy tenure as governor — he is the longest-serving chief executive in Texas history — in a state that is a treasure trove of Republican money and has few restrictions on political giving. And as a sitting governor, he has one advantage that the Republican field’s current top fund-raiser — Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor — no longer enjoys.

In Texas, individual and political action committees may give unlimited contributions to candidates for governor, and Mr. Perry has exploited that leeway to the hilt: according to a study by Texans for Public Justice, fully half of Mr. Perry’s campaign contributions, totalling roughly $51 million, have come from just 204 donors giving $100,000 or more. A single couple, Robert Perry, a Texas homebuilder, and his wife, Doylene, who are not related to the governor, have given Mr. Perry more than $2.5 million over the years.

In a state whose government is fragmented among dozens of commissions, boards, and agencies, Mr. Perry has also raised aggressively from his own appointees, an approach permitted by state law and practiced by governors of both parties. According to Texans for Public Justice, since taking office Mr. Perry has raised more than $17 million from 921 of his appointees or their spouses.

“Democrats and Republicans have traditionally done this,” said Mr. McDonald. “But he’s taken it to a higher level than anyone else.”

In part because federal law caps at $2,500 the amount individuals can give to any one candidate during the primary, Mr. Perry will not be able to raise money nearly as easily as he has in the past. But Mr. Perry’s top donors represent a corps of bundlers-in-waiting that any of his rivals would envy.

And thanks to loose campaign rules in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, whatever money his wealthiest Texas supporters cannot give directly to Mr. Perry could easily end up in the coffers of one of the half-dozen or so “SuperPACs” — technically independent groups that in the wake of the court’s decision can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to support a candidate — that have been set up in recent weeks by former Perry aides and supporters.

One former Perry aide, Dan Shelley, recently formed two independent expenditure groups, Veterans for Rick Perry and the Jobs for Vets Fund. Another group, Make Us Great Again, was formed with help from Mike Toomey, a former chief of staff to Mr. Perry who is now an Austin lobbyist.

Mr. Perry is also poised to make inroads among donors who had hoped to back either Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, or Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, before each man opted out of running. Many of those donors have relationships with Mr. Perry through his work with the governor’s association.

“In my time around the R.G.A., Perry’s genuinely one of the handful of governors who’s really been active nationally,” said Henry Barbour, Haley Barbour’s nephew and a lobbyist in Mississippi. “So he’s got those relationships, and I think that gives you a confidence.”

Mr. Barbour added: “When you’ve asked people for $100,000, or $250,000, or even a million dollars, you can do this at the national level.”

Next up for Mitt Romney is Rick Perry

Mitt Romney celebrated the final night of an extended summer vacation Thursday, emerging as the uncontested and still unscathed front-runner from an eight-way scrap.

That won’t last long.

The two-hour debate here, the third of the GOP presidential campaign, lacked the candidate who could ultimately present him with his stiffest competition: Rick Perry. Without Perry, and without the candidates taking any significant swipes at Romney, the forum had a preliminary feel to it — which is why the former Massachusetts governor never had to break a sweat.

Perry’s expected entry into the race Saturday will change all that.

The Texas governor may present the last best hope of beating Romney, the tenuous but still dent-free front-runner. And the remaining candidates are already scrapping furiously for a shrinking third-place spot.

Romney offered a glimpse of the race’s next phase with the observation that only he and long-shot Herman Cain “understand how the private sector” works.

“That will be a very effective message against Perry,” predicted former Sen. Jim Talent, a Romney adviser.

Romney’s high command wasn’t ready to directly contrast their candidate’s record with Perry, but they were happy to begin laying the groundwork for a campaign that will portray the decadelong Texas governor as a career politician running at a moment of maximum skepticism toward politicians.

“I think it’s very, very difficult to step into a national race and I think it’s a very difficult time to be running in your third decade in office,” said Romney strategist Stuart Stevens. “People are not looking for, ‘I have experience in government to solve government.”

Stevens also asked if Perry wouldn’t be another in a line of vaunted Texas presidential hopefuls who went bust.

“Is Perry going to be John Connally, is he going to be Phil Gramm — who knows?” he said. “It’s like a first-round draft pick — you just never know.”

Eric Fehrnstrom, another Romney adviser, cited his candidate’s private-sector experience when asked about Perry.

“I don’t want to contrast Mitt’s record with Gov. Perry or anyone else at this point except to say he has led four enterprises,” he said, citing Romney’s two private companies, the Salt Lake City Olympics and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Perry’s top strategist, Dave Carney, would only say of the debate, “There is one clear winner,” an apparent reference to the Texas governor. Perry spokesman Mark Miner declined to comment on Romney’s apparent jab.

But a Perry supporter who has led an unofficial campaign on the Texas governor’s behalf, Robert Schuman, gladly returned fire.

“He was a rancher first,” Schuman said of Perry. “And being a successful governor — as opposed to a mediocre governor — trumps being a successful businessman.”

Even as he emerged unmolested from the debate, Romney’s vulnerabilities were on vivid display earlier in the day Thursday.

“Corporations are people,” he shot back to a heckler at the Iowa State Fair, demonstrating his at-times awkward personal style that makes some in his party wince.

While he doesn’t arrive in Iowa until Sunday, Perry occupied a larger space on the stage than several of the candidates — he was even the subject of a debate question posed to three of them.

“He clearly cast a big shadow over the debate,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, a longtime observer of Republican politics, who was in attendance.

Perry will loom just as large Saturday, when Iowa Republicans come back to Ames for the straw poll and the Texan announces his candidacy in South Carolina.

Some high-profile GOP officials in the Hawkeye State did little to hide their irritation over what they see as Perry’s attempt at scene-stealing.

Rep. Steve King, the influential Western Iowa conservative who is close to Rep. Michele Bachmann, suggested Perry’s timing reflects “his strategy to diminish the effect of the straw poll.”

King and other Iowa Republicans predicted that Perry’s abrupt entry and deliberate timing — the Texan will come to this state Sunday for a speech in Bachmann’s native town of Waterloo — would ruffle the feathers of Iowa GOP activists.

“To turn around the next day [after Saturday’s straw poll] and come here to Iowa and go to the very town and the very building where Michele Bachmann was raised and announced her candidacy — that’s a pretty strong statement,” he said. “That’s not going to be considered subtle here in Iowa. That might be subtle in Texas, but it ain’t subtle in Iowa.”

“It can’t help him,” King said of Perry’s bold approach to the state.

With Perry in the wings, the extended, unabashedly negative exchange that took place between Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty on Thursday demonstrated the new urgency of the undercard battle. Bachmann cast Pawlenty as too liberal; Pawlenty cast her as an ineffectual ideologue. Both are playing hard for victory in the straw poll here, and realizing the sudden reality that there may only be one ticket out of Ames.

A senior Bachmann aide, Ed Goeas, told POLITICO that the campaign sees three spaces in the race: One for Romney, whom Bachmann’s aides believe is capped at less than 40 percent of Republican support; one for grass-roots favorite Bachmann; and one for Perry, if his campaign succeeds in taking off. A Pawlenty adviser, meanwhile, argued that Bachmann has the most to lose from Perry’s entry, and that he will cut into her grass-roots base.

“The straw poll might produce the challenger to Perry,” said a former political director of the Iowa Republican Party, Craig Robinson, who now edits “There’s gonna be one winner on Saturday between the two of them.”

But Perry remains an unknown quantity heading into a crucial weekend. Recent presidential races have shown that highly anticipated new entrants, from Fred Thompson to Wes Clark, sink at least as often as they swim, and Perry’s strategy of competing for attention with the straw poll Saturday could also pull some attention away from one of his few clean shots at media attention.

And for all the anticipation among insiders, he remains largely unheard of in the state.

“They don’t know him,” said former Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen. “He’s creating all this media buzz but they don’t know him.”

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Sources: Fox News, MSNBC, NY Times, Politico, Youtube, Google Maps

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