Perry Would Add Texas Spice to Bland GOP Mix

SAN DIEGO – Even as seven GOP presidential hopefuls gathered for a debate in New Hampshire, the eyes of many Republicans were upon Texas.

Largely disenchanted with the current crop of candidates, and doubtful that any one of them could lay a glove on Barack Obama in the general election, Republican voters aren’t shy about telling reporters that they want to take more applications.

Not even front-runner Mitt Romney is satisfying. While he did fine in the debate, and while he came in at the top of a new Gallup poll with 24 percent of Republicans saying that he’s the one they’re most likely to support for the nomination, the former Massachusetts governor still lags in the same poll’s measure of voter “intensity.” Put simply, he doesn’t get voters as excited as do long-shot candidates Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain.

This disillusionment in GOP ranks has created a gigantic vacuum. And so it is little wonder that some Republicans say they’d like to go back to the drawing board and build a hybrid candidate, with a dash of this quality from one person and a sprinkle of that attribute from another.

Others insist there is no need to go to all that trouble, that there is already a prototype out there who has executive experience, the tea-party stamp of approval, a record of creating a friendly business climate, and even something we don’t see much of from Republicans these days – an appeal to Hispanics. They want to see the governor of the nation’s second-most populous state toss his Stetson into the ring.

Sources close to Rick Perry tell CBS News that the Texas governor is “serious” about launching a campaign for president. He is talking to financial backers, and recently welcomed former campaign manager Rob Johnson and top political consultant Dave Carney back to Austin. Until recently, both had been working for Newt Gingrich, and their abrupt departure suggests that they know something about Perry’s plans that we don’t.

If Perry were indeed to run, no one would be more surprised than many of Perry’s fellow Texans. I lived in Dallas for five years and I still have many friends in the Lone Star State – both Republicans and Democrats. Most of them don’t think Perry will run. It’s the same feedback I got a few weeks ago during a trip to San Antonio, when no one I spoke to put any stock in the idea and everyone treated it as a rumor – albeit a juicy one.

Some people think Perry is just trying to keep his name out there to build his brand so that when he steps down after what many expect to be his final term, he’ll have more opportunities in the private sector. Others are skeptical that Perry could – from his perch in Austin – pull together the national organization to compete with Romney, Gingrich, Bachmann and the others.

Personally, I hope Perry gets in. He could bring a lot to this contest. If Sarah Palin doesn’t run, and it turns out her bus tour was nothing more than another gimmick to grab attention, then there will be a need for a Republican candidate whom everyday Americans can relate to. That’s Perry.

He has positives and negatives, but so do the others. On the positive side, he’s affable, charming and a great campaigner. On the negative, he can be intensely unlikable, especially in a debate, and even supporters sometimes doubt his authenticity and veracity.

If you thought Mitt Romney or John Kerry did Olympic-quality flip-flops, wait until you get a look at Rick Perry.

One version of him used federal stimulus money to prop up the Texas economy; the other threatened secession. One insisted, when pressed during his last re-election campaign, that he would not run for president; the other appears to be gearing up to do just that. One signed a law that granted in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants; the other – perhaps with an eye toward running for president – declared so-called “sanctuary cities” an emergency item to be taken up by the state Legislature.

So, in Perry’s ideal world, local and state police should help immigration officials enforce federal law and remove illegal immigrants. But any of the undocumented who are somehow overlooked can stick around, buy a backpack and go to college at a reduced rate?

It would be worth sitting through a campaign just to hear an explanation.

Email: ruben@rubennavarrette.com. Copyright 2011, The Washington Post Writers Group.

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