With the former Massachusetts governor firmly planted near the top of the GOP race, the two challengers are jockeying for position as his foremost alternative
Although Texas Gov. Rick Perry survived last week's debate at Dartmouth College, he must do better than simply surviving in the upcoming debates, starting with Tuesday night's in Las Vegas.
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Perry's reported third-quarter haul of $17 million is impressive, but his poll numbers are in free fall and his organization isn't even remotely comparable to that of the GOP front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Such poll hemorrhaging can only hinder future fundraising and organizational efforts in key early states. Enticing local activists or new donors to climb aboard what appears to be a sinking ship is a pretty tough sell. If Perry doesn't step up his game and quell growing reservations about him, his days as a real contender--if any still remain--may soon be over.
That leaves two scenarios. In the first, without transforming into a world-class debater, Perry recoups enough to stabilize his candidacy, placate at least his Texas donors (after all, he remains governor of the Lone Star State regardless), and become the Romney alternative--albeit one with clipped wings who is unlikely to ultimately prevail. Perry could repair some self-inflicted damage, though with the Iowa caucuses scheduled for Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary potentially coming as early as December, there isn't much time for a dramatic turnaround of his fortunes. Holding out for later victories is an option, though former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's 2008 debacle suggests that strategy has shortcomings.