Romney and Perry: Tortoise and Hare?

The former Massachusetts governor has survived challenge after challenge. Will slow and steady win the 2012 race?

Mitt Romney mackinac - AP Photo:Carlos Osorio - banner.jpg

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. -- In a presidential nominating contest dominated by shooting stars who burn bright but briefly, it may be the most consistent, if less thrilling, Mitt Romney who proves most resilient.

Former pizza company executive Herman Cain performed well in an early debate and ascended to double digits in some national polls. Rep. Michele Bachmann won the summer, and the Iowa straw poll, but faded as questions about her ability to beat President Obama loomed. Now, six weeks after he began his bid, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is stumbling, both in a debate this week and in a Florida straw poll for which he campaigned overtly.

If they are the political hares, Mitt Romney's tortoise seems to be catching up Romney began the campaign as the odds-on front-runner, the most experienced candidate in a weak field and the contender best able to put together both an experienced team and a robust bank account. But questions over health care reform he signed into law in Massachusetts have lurked like a stalking cat, and the media has been more interested in newcomers. That made Romney's lead look shaky, destined to come tumbling down the moment an anti-Romney candidate coalesced his rivals.

That moment has seemed to come several times -- when Cain vaulted up the polls, when former candidate Tim Pawlenty debuted the phrase "ObamneyCare" in a Fox News interview, when Bachmann overtook Pawlenty as Romney's most threatening foe, and virtually the moment Perry stepped onto the scene.

And yet, after all those threats, Romney has proven that those arrayed against him have not decided on a single candidate around whom to unite.

The high-stakes, high-pressure environment of a presidential campaign, and the intense interest Republican primary voters have in finding a candidate they believe in who can also defeat President Obama next year, has fueled the stellar rises and cataclysmic falls of a number of candidates. Perry's rocky debate performance in Orlando on Thursday raised further doubts about his readiness for prime time. Bachmann has become a virtual after-thought in the polls. Though Cain won a straw poll conducted by the Republican Party of Florida, he did so with help from Romney advisors, who schemed to deny Perry a win, sources told National Journal.

And though Romney's team professed not to be involved, their candidate handily won a straw poll of Republican activists at the biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders and conducted by The Hotline.

Romney has deep ties to Michigan, to be certain. He was raised in Bloomfield Hills; his father, George, served as chairman and CEO of American Motors Corporation and as the state's governor. But Perry is the hot new candidate, and even in Michigan activists seemed more excited to hear his speech. Perry's lunchtime address drew a standing room-only crowd; Romney's dinnertime address had empty seats.

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