Can Rick Perry Compete for the Middle Ground?

Perry's impressive streak of victories in Texas are not a sign of cross-party appeal

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Rick Perry played it a little safer on the campaign trail in New Hampshire Wednesday, admitting he "got lectured" for his remark that Federal Reserve chair Ben Barnanke's actions were "treasonous," Bloomberg's Lisa Lerer reports. He was a "calmer, quieter" candidate, and, "after days of dominating the headlines, Perry's major goal in New Hampshire seemed not to make any," Lerer writes. The New York Times' Ashley Parker found him "a far more subdued and measured campaigner." The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi says Perry "showed he is off to a serious start" by toning down his Texas swag. But switching from cowboy boots to topsiders might not be enough to distract voters from his not-so-moderate record.

CNN's Rachel Streitfeld reports that on the campaign trail Wednesday, Ron Paul--who wants to abolish the Federal Reserve, withdraw from all wars, and says we're using a counterfeit currency--took a shot at Perry's more inflammatory comments. "Now we have a Southern governor, I can't remember his name... He makes me look like a moderate. I have never once suggested Bernanke committed treason." It's not just Perry's unscripted moments that could give him trouble with moderates--he'll have to contend with attacks on his record, too. The Houston Chronicle reports that Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured people of any state in the country. Education Secretary Arne Duncan took a shot at Perry, saying Texas high school grads are unprepared for college because of "massive increases in class size" and "cutbacks in funding," Bloomberg's Margaret Talev reports.
To figure out whether Perry can appeal to enough Yankees--or moderates anywhere--to get elected, it helps to look at the margins by which Perry's won statewide elections, The New York Times' Nate Silver explains. (National poll numbers are less reliable, because Texas voters know him best.) Republicans typically win statewide elections by large margins in Texas, and though Perry has impressively never lost an election, he has steadily won by slimmer margins than his fellow Texas Republicans.
  • In 2002, running for his first full term as governor, Perry won by 18 points--better than the statewide Republican average of 15 points.
  • In 2006, he beat his nearest rival by 9 points, a smaller margin than Republicans' average statewide of 15 points.
  • In 2010, Perry won by 13 points, far less than Texas Republicans' average of 27 points.
Further, Perry doesn't have an impressive victory on his resume that compares with Mitt Romney's win in extremely Democratic Massachusetts. Silver explains why that's crucial:
Most other candidates who have won their party’s nomination have at least one such overachieving performance. Barack Obama won election to the United States Senate in 2004 with an overwhelming 43-point margin, albeit against a very weak opponent. George W. Bush was elected Texas governor by 37 points in 1998. Bill Clinton ran for governor of Arkansas six times, losing once, but winning on three other occasions by at least 25 percentage points. Ronald Reagan defeated Pat Brown, the Democratic incumbent governor of California, by 15-point margin in 1966; although California was not as blue then as it is today, it is fairly rare to defeat an incumbent governor by that margin under any circumstances. Lyndon Johnson won his three Senate terms by an average of 40 points. Results like these are more the hallmark of having a mass-market brand.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.