Romney Shows Staying Power as Rivals Falter

Thursday, 10 Nov 2011 11:12 AM

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may feel he has something in common with the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, whose tag line was “I can’t get no respect.”

However, although the former Massachusetts governor may be failing to light a fire among many of the GOP faithful, his opponents are self-destructing right and left, Politico reports.

Businessman Herman Cain remains slightly ahead of or behind Romney in most polls. But he continues to fend off allegations of sexual harassment. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry committed a serious blunder in the presidential debate Wednesday. As he was listing three federal agencies he would eliminate, Perry forgot No. 3. It was the Energy Department, with Education and Commerce being the two he remembered.

So what’s going to finally earn front-runner Romney some respect? “Maybe when the voting begins, and we start winning primaries,” his senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told Politico.

One thing is for sure: The rest of the field is looking in a lot worse shape than Romney.

As for Perry, having raised $17.2 million in the third quarter, giving him $15.1 million in cash on hand, the man who briefly stood as front-runner is financially equipped to go the distance. But his debate snafu may turn out to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. After desultory performances in his first few debates, he appeared to be getting back in the saddle over the past few weeks — before this.

“Perry doesn’t control his own destiny anymore,” GOP strategist Christian Ferry told Politico after the debate. “He has a lot of money in the bank, which will keep him going and allow him the opportunity to right his ship. But he will need outside help from Cain potentially falling apart and [Newt] Gingrich not catching on, or catching on and fading.”

A more biased observer, Jesse Benton, chairman of Ron Paul’s campaign, put it more starkly.

“Everybody has been looking for a candidate to be the anti-establishment, anti-Romney guy,” he told Politico. “Perry rode in and surged. People didn’t like what he was having to say at some of those debates. He came down. It looks like his little recent bounce has just been a dead-cat bounce. It looks like he’s going to be on his way out of the race.”

Perry’s handling of his gaffe immediately after the debate is unlikely to stanch the negative tide. “I stepped in it out there,” he told reporters. “I may have forgotten [the Department of] Energy, but I haven’t forgotten my conservative principles.”

As for Cain, his Republican rivals are going easy on him now over the sexual harassment scandal, but if his poll numbers remain strong, they’ll get after him with a vengeance, Politico points out. Notice that the other candidates have treated Perry very gently since his snafu Wednesday, after lambasting him when he topped the polls in September.

If Perry and Cain do fall by the wayside, and that’s in no way guaranteed, who will emerge as Romney’s chief rival?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is one possibility. Though his campaign is nearly broke, Gingrich’s poll numbers have improved in recent weeks. He has benefited from his strong debate performances and speeches. He has shown he has substance when it comes to policy matters.

Colorado-based activist Charlie Smith has announced plans to create a super PAC — Solutions 2012 — to support Gingrich.

“If Rick Perry gave that performance as the Republican nominee, they wouldn’t have to count the ballots. It would be over on the spot,” Smith told Politico. “Compare that to Newt, who showed the kind of intellect that conservatives have long known and respected. That contrast will absolutely lead to more support for Newt.”

One candidate seemingly left for dead could come back– former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Politico says. He’s putting all his eggs into the New Hampshire basket, and a solid showing there could give Huntsman the momentum to become Romney’s main rival.

But none of Romney’s challengers looks too formidable now. So who represents his chief threat?

“Obama,” Republican strategist Rich Galen told Politico.

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