WASHINGTON - The demise of Tim Pawlenty's bid for the U.S. Republican presidential nomination will likely bring financial benefits to the race's newest entrant: Texas Governor Rick Perry, donors said Monday.
Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor, ended his bid for the nomination over the weekend after placing a distant third in an Iowa straw poll -- an early test of strength in the race to take on President Barack Obama in November 2012.
Many campaign finance donors say Perry's economic record in Texas and lackluster enthusiasm for front-runner Mitt Romney, will help Perry recruit former Pawlenty cash backers.
"There is an obvious migration potential to Rick Perry," said Chris Healy, a former head of Connecticut's Republican Party who had backed Pawlenty.
The Iowa straw poll winnowed the Republican field, with the race now seen as shaping up between caucus winner Representative Michele Bachmann, Romney and Perry.
Perry has been laying the groundwork for his entry into the race for months, meeting with high-level donors to gauge support. He has been a proficient fundraiser in Texas, pulling in more than $100 million over his three terms.
Gregory Slayton, who raised major funds for former President George W. Bush, moved to the Perry camp several days before Pawlenty pulled out of the race, but said many Pawlenty backers are moving to Perry.
"My guess is that 75 percent of the Pawlenty guys will go to Perry," said Slayton, a former technology executive with deep ties to California's Silicon Valley.
Perry supporters cite job growth in Texas -- one of the best in the country -- as a perfect story to tell to go up against Obama, whose biggest weakness is the faltering recovery and 9 percent unemployment.
To be sure, Perry has work to do to win the nomination. His biggest challenge may be expanding his base.
"One of the big challenges for Perry is to see how much money he can raise from the national donors outside Texas," said Charlie Black, a former consultant to President George H.W. Bush and 2008 Republican nominee John McCain.
Some political analysts say Perry's outspoken stances on social issues and mix of religion and politics may make Romney a better candidate to go up against Obama.
There are also doubts Americans want another former Texas governor as president.
Jerry Kilgore, a former Bush fundraiser and former Virginia attorney general who had backed Pawlenty, did not seem worried about Perry's electability. "Perry would appeal to a lot of Virginians with his job creation message," he said. "I don't anticipate Romney is where I'd end up."
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