Remember when Mitt Romney was the front-runner and seemingly the only candidate even remotely able to take on Obama, be it in fund-raising or being electable past the primaries? And remember how a week ago Rick Perry, governor of Texas, just sauntered on in and pinned the front-runner badge on his own chest? Well, the title of front-runner may be what all candidates are gunning for, but it also carries a curse (just look back at Hillary Clinton or Howard Dean’s runs). And now Perry is starting to feel the first lashings customarily reserved for the man or woman at the top of the heap.
Already Perry’s famed fund-raising abilities are being tarred, despite Politico reporting that he pretty much has South Carolina’s Republican money in his pocket. An article in the New York Times yesterday and one in the Los Angeles Times last week both dug into the long list of donors to Perry’s state campaigns and found that almost all were taking part in a lavish pay-to-play culture, with many who’d given to his gubernatorial runs receiving tens of millions in state grants or contracts. Of the $102 million he raised over the past decade — including one election and two reelection campaigns — more than a third came from just 150 individuals and couples in the state. The obvious implication is that Perry was able to attract lots of money because he had lots of money to give away as governor. In this new culture of line-by-line budget battles in Washington, with the parties hawkishly targeting each other’s earmarks, this is not an easy environment in which to expect preferential treatment. That said, Perry’s famed de-regulatory drive may still woo major corporate money to his side.
As for support from within the party, endorsements for Perry are thin on the ground. What he has, in fact, are quite a few outspoken critics: Karl Rove, whose American Crossroads group is one of the major funnelers of Republican campaign cash, called Perry’s remarks regarding Fed chair Ben Bernanke (to whom he’d applied the label “almost treasonous”) “not presidential”; Tony Fratto, a senior aide to George W. Bush also came out against the remarks; and, according to Newsmax, the rest of Bush’s team seem pretty cool toward Perry as well, with one close associate even letting him know that, “you just don’t want the former president of the United States and his people working against you.” While this cycle does seem to be more about the tea party than the old guard, the latter (including many who rose on the swell of the Bush years) still far outnumber the former, at least in Washington and in many key Republican groups. Even a grassroots candidate ultimately needs some establishment backing, since that is where the big bucks and big organization needed to win a general election come from.
So welcome to the head of the pack Governor Perry. Summer may be nearing an end, but you’re about to experience a major fry-the-front-runner heat wave.