DES MOINES – Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entry into the 2012 Republican presidential race on the heels of Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s Ames straw poll win had activists wondering Monday if there will be enough tea (party) for two in Iowa.
Perry and Bachmann are expected to compete for the support of Tea Party activists, as well as social and religious conservatives in an evolving race that could be further complicated should former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin decide to declare her candidacy.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, also showed he polls heavily within the GOP’s Tea Party and libertarian factions, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Georgians Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich are vying for a “spoiler” role in a field where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remains the national frontrunner among Republicans.
Chuck Laudner, a former Republican Party of Iowa executive director, said the months leading up to next year’s first-in-the-nation caucuses likely will be a contest over which candidate can best convince Iowans that he or she is the “full-spectrum conservative” who can beat Democrat Barack Obama in next year’s presidential election.
Romney probably faces a challenge from Perry for the economic and establishment Republicans in Iowa, while Perry, Bachmann and the other contenders will compete for the influential evangelical and Tea Party wings of the GOP in the run up to next year’s caucuses.
“I think Perry and Bachmann are going to have a huge slugfest to settle out who is the official anti-establishment candidate,” Laudner said.
The former state party executive said Perry made a tactical gaffe with his “clumsy” entry in the race on the same day as the Iowa straw poll – a move that both took away attention from the Texan’s announcement and “stomped” on the Iowa party’s major fundraising event.
That is requiring Perry to do some fence-mending in a state where he already has allowed Bachmann to add straw-poll winner to her resume as a legitimate tea party candidate, Laudner said. That will require the governor “to have to battle it extra hard to win those tea-party people over,” he added.
Charlie Gruschow of Des Moines, Tea Party of America co-founder, said the 2012 race is invigorating tea party activists who were influential in Saturday’s straw-poll outcome and he expects them to take a close look at Perry’s record in sizing up the latest GOP entry.
Gruschow and Laudner said there was a possibility Romney could be benefitted in Iowa if the impact of Tea Party, social and evangelical support is diluted among several GOP contenders.
State Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Indianola, Bachmann’s Iowa campaign leader, said he believes the Minnesota congresswoman will emerge as the candidate that best fits for conservatives in social, fiscal and national security realms.
“I think she’s a natural fit for the Tea Party,” he said.
Sorenson said doubts Perry and Bachmann will be drawing from the same bloc of voters once Iowans learn more about the Texas governor’s stands on issues like immigration and issuing an executive order in February 2007 mandating Texas girls receive a vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) – a cause of cervical cancer. The Texas Legislature passed a bill a few months later to undo the executive order.
During a radio interview with WHO while visiting the Iowa State Fair on Monday, Perry conceded that he “didn’t approach that (HPV) issue right at all.”
“We shouldn’t have done it with an executive order. We should have worked with the Legislature,” Perry said, noting that his mother and father are cancer survivors and his interest in finding a cure.
“That particular issue was one that I readily stand up and say I made a mistake on,” he told the Iowa radio audience. “I don’t always get it right, but I darn sure listen.”
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