At the time of writing, 'Real Clear Politics' show Rick Perry's poll ratings to be the highest of all the runners for Republican Presidential nomination. Since the Governor of Texas entered the race he has topped the polls, pushing ahead past the other front-runner Mitt Romney. Perry and Romney have consistently been first and second respectively, leaving the rest of the candidates trailing behind and turning the campaign into a two-horse race.
Perry's tendency to be outspoken has led to accusations of a lack of intelligence. One nickname he has acquired is "Governor Goodhair", implying that he looks the part but his appeal is chiefly superficial. Perry is not exactly an ideas man, and is perpetually surrounded by scores of advisers. His policy focus as Governor has been on jobs and business and not much else (save the continually re-emerging and much-regretted initiative of making the HPV vaccine compulsory for Texan girls).
One of the problems Perry has is his resemblance to former President, George W. Bush. The remark is often made that the similarities are numerous: their positions as Governor of Texas, their manner of speaking and their perceived stupidity are some examples. Perry and his team have repeatedly tried to distance his image from Bush's, providing opposing outlooks on key issues such as immigration. During one campaign trail, Perry skilfully used the comparison to highlight the difference in class. Asserting his authenticity as a true cowboy Texan, he told the press “I went to Texas A&M. He went to Yale.” (Some may say this was a little unusual for a Republican - to start a 'class war'.) However there is no denying that Americans will be reminded of Bush while the provocative conservative speaks with the same voice and gestures. But maybe the caricature is not so worrying. If Perry is the new Bush, Romney is the new McCain - and only one of these became President.
The two men have also both been advised by Republican strategist Karl Rove, although their relationship is tense to say the least. Their 'feud' could have serious repercussions; a National Journal article by Alex Roarty noted that Rove was an "influential gateway to the donor community Perry must tap". It doesn't seem likely that they'll become best buds any time soon. Only recently Rove joined in with the recent criticism of Perry's views on Social Security, calling them "toxic". Democrats and Republicans alike condemned the Governor's declaration that the retirement program was a "Ponzi scheme".
This was not the first instance of Rick Perry's controversial views being rounded upon - in August, Perry called the measure of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve "almost treacherous — or treasonous… we would treat [Ben Bernanke] pretty ugly down in Texas". Karl Rove intervened here too, saying that it wasn't done to insult the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Defending the un-Presidential comments, Perry said somewhat lamely, “Look, I’m just passionate about the issue".
Nevertheless, Rick Perry is irrefutably attractive to the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party, and evangelicals as a whole (being devoid of fear in mixing church and state). Mitt Romney on the other hand is regarded with suspicion by many Republicans, seen as a moderate despite having criticised Roe vs Wade in the past, being pro-capital punishment and opposing same-sex marriage.
Yet apparent 'lightweight' Rick Perry could be under real threat from Mitt Romney. After all, Perry only formally declared his candidacy just over a month ago, giving him a short-term advantage. Romney has money, lots of it, which is always valuable in running expensive campaigns. He came second-place last time, which is always a good position to be in. Furthermore, having adopted New Hampshire as his must-win state, he is in a strong lead there. Having allocated himself as the moderate candidate, Romney presumably hopes to split the conservative votes between the vast choice presented to the electorate (Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Ron Paul, etc). Most importantly perhaps - as former candidate Tim Pawlenty has pointed out - "Romney runs a little better against Barack Obama".
Whilst Romney has the ability to win votes from moderate Democrats and independent voters, Perry may scare them off. In contrast, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, who has never lost an election, may have a high probability of winning this race - but it'll be a far greater challenge to overthrow Obama.