Like a tumbleweed loosed in a storm, Texas Governor Rick Perry drifted out of Iowa after his humiliating fifth-place finish in the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses last night. To the dismay of Tea Party conservatives, Perry returned to the Lone Star state to reflect on whether or not he should continue his bid for the White House. News breaking on Twitter an hour ago, however, is that the campaign will continue, pinning its hopes on South Carolina’s January 21 primary. The chair of the Perry campaign in Colorado, U.S. 6th District Congressman Mike Coffman, has yet to comment on the Perry loss, the plan going forward, or on the meaning for Colorado Republicans of last night’s historic Mitt Romney-Rick Santorum caucus-race photo-finish.
Calls to Coffman’s 2012 campaign staffers went unanswered today. Coffman is running for reelection against Democrat Joe Miklosi in a formerly safe Republican district remade this year as a tossup, equally divided among Republican, independent and Democratic voters.
At the beginning of November, before his district boundaries had been cemented, Coffman announced he was proud to chair Perry’s campaign in Colorado. It was another in a series of moves that seemed to mark a sharp turn to the right for Coffman.
“Governor Perry’s experience, ideas and proven record of job creation make him the candidate we need to get our nation working again,” Coffman said. “I am looking forward to being a part of Gov. Perry’s campaign team.”
Now, Perry’s prospects here and elsewhere look dim.
Romney is running far ahead of the pack in the next contest to be held January 10 in New Hampshire and has already pulled down the endorsement of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Despite his showing in Iowa, social conservative Santorum isn’t likely to catch fire in the Northeast.
Santorum spent nearly a year stumping in heavily evangelical Iowa and lost to Romney by a mere 8 votes out of some 150,000 cast. According to a Suffolk University/7News poll (PDF) released today, Santorum gained a full point’s worth of support in New Hampshire yesterday– but the bump only notched him 6 percent support over all. Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania who lost his seat to a Democrat in 2006, is running in fifth place in New Hampshire, according to Suffolk. Perry drew 1 percent support among the likely voters polled, trailing even Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who finished last in the Iowa caucuses and dropped out of the presidential race this morning.
The Colorado Republican presidential precinct caucuses are scheduled for February 7. In Colorado’s 2008 caucuses, Romney defeated John McCain in a landslide, winning 60 percent of the vote. This year’s race, the first presidential contest of the Tea Party era, however, seems different. Romney is being portrayed on the right as a new-model McCain, a flip-flopping moderate who can’t be trusted to push strong conservative policies, and so Romney seems unlikely to inspire the kind of enthusiasm he did four years ago here.
Pundits at the national Tea Party blog RedState have been strongly pushing Perry as the best alternative to Romney in the face of repeat signals that the campaign is doomed.
On Tuesday morning, tamping down expectations, RedState Founder Erick Erickson quoted Dan McLaughlin to say that a fourth-place finish by Perry would constitute a “life line” and would “ensure he will be the GOP nominee.”
Perry’s limping fifth-place finish, in which by some calculations his campaign and supporting committee spent nearly $500 in ads on each of the roughly 12,600 votes cast for him, wasn’t enough to dissuade Erickson. This morning, in a post-Iowa piece titled “Embrace the Suck,” he alternately blamed George W. Bush for the topsy-turvy GOP primary and pleaded with Perry to stay the course, painting him as the last great hope of the Tea Party.
If Rick Perry drops out of the race it will be the ultimate failure of the tea party movement to see the race come down to two or three big government conservatives. Romney and Santorum both hide behind compassionate conservatism to expand the state to suit their purposes. Only Rick Perry has run a campaign to make Washington “as inconsequential to our lives as possible.”
If I were Perry, I’d wake up tomorrow, say I refuse to surrender the Republican Party into the hands of big government conservatives after all the gains the tea party has made, and then announce I’m firing all my political staffers and communications staffers and ask South Carolina to help me reboot to victory. Make it an Alamo stand and, if like at the Alamo Perry goes down, perhaps there’ll at least be a rallying cry for small government conservatism left over.
Progressive groups pressured Coffman to defend a controversial anti-gay ad Perry ran in Iowa last month. Coffman made no comment. This week, in advance of the opening of the Colorado state legislative session, high-profile Republicans have come out in support of same-sex civil unions legislation defeated last year and on the slate to be reintroduced this year.