"Rick Perry is already Republicans' top choice for the presidential nomination," says Rachel Weiner at The Washington Post. In the three national polls taken since Perry entered the race Aug. 13, Perry has double-digit leads over previous GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney. Of course, it's still very early — at this point in 2007, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was in GOP pole position — and as former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) notes on CNN, Perry "hasn't been exposed to the glare of the klieg lights yet." Can Perry hang onto his GOP frontrunner status? Here, six big factors in his favor:
1. National polls say Perry's the frontrunner
Perry leads Romney by between 11 and 13 percentage points in three national polls, Gallup, PPP, and Rasmussen. Even though national polls' usefulness is questionable (since we elect presidential candidates by state), this is still impressive, says David Weigel at Slate. Perry's 29 percent support in the Gallup poll is "a bigger chunk of the vote than Romney ever commanded. "A lot of national Republicans have absorbed Perry's entry and see him as both acceptable and a frontrunner," says Jonathan Chait in The New Republic.
2. Plus, Perry leads in Iowa
Iowa and New Hampshire are the first two states to choose a presidential nominee. And luckily for Perry, his "national surge does show some signs of transferring into Iowa," says Nate Silver at The New York Times. The only poll there since he entered the race has him in first place, which is bad news for Romney — Mitt doesn't need to win Iowa, but if "Perry were to win Iowa convincingly, he could clear the field of other conservative candidates," putting New Hampshire in play. And Romney needs to win New Hampshire. South Carolina and Florida are looking promising for Perry, too.
3. He's winning key endorsements
Perry's got the early backing of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a staunch conservative, especially on environmental issues, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, and Inhofe's influential support "should help Perry gain some traction among conservatives, especially in the Midwest." Perry also got a "big endorsement" in the must-win state of Florida — state House Speaker Dean Cannon — and his advisers say he's "secured a slew of endorsements" in South Carolina, where he's making an aggressive push to win.
4. Mitt Romney looks nervous
After Inhofe called Romney "mushy on environmental issues," the former Massachusetts governor "tweaked his position on global warming," says Dan Berman at Politico, telling a New Hampshire crowd he's not sure whether the Earth is getting warmer, or whether any warming is "mostly caused by humans." As recently as June 3, Romney had suggested the opposite. If Perry's advances "aren't setting off alarm bells in the Romney camp, they certainly ought to be," says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. After trying to float above fringe candidates, Romney's now "in a real race with a candidate that is both more conservative, and more experienced as an executive at the government level."
5. Perry's "basically built for this primary, this year"
Betting site Intrade gives Perry a 40 percent chance to win the GOP nomination, versus roughly 30 percent for Romney, and "those are probably reasonable odds," says Sasha Issenberg in The New York Times. Perry is "ideologically in sync with the Republican energies of the moment," and has a job-creating record to run on. "He's basically built for this primary, this year," and the more moderate Romney isn't.
6. The media has anointed Perry the frontrunner
"Aah, how fickle political reporters are," says Toby Harnden at Britain's Telegraph. After months of endowing Romney with the lucrative, self-reinforcing mantle of frontrunner, "there's a new guy in town and the media, across the spectrum, is hailing Perry." Romney's been running for the nomination since 2006, and Perry started just three months ago, but "already in some quarters the Texan is all but being lauded as the next nominee."