Has Rick Perry turned Mitt Romney into a better candidate?

Since the Texas governor knocked Romney out of the GOP lead, the overly packaged former frontrunner has arguably shown new spark

Mitt Romney
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Early on in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney refrained from criticizing his rivals, leading fretful GOP insiders to question his gumption. But Romney has adopted a more aggressive tone since Rick Perry snatched away his frontrunner status, blasting Perry in this week's Tea Party debate on everything from Social Security to immigration to jobs. Has Perry scared Romney into becoming the fighter his party is looking for?

Romney's had to change his strategy: Romney had to shift gears when Perry entered the race, says Kasie Hunt for the Associated Press. Romney started his campaign focusing, in a less immediate way, on why he would make a better president than Barack Obama. Now he's caught up in a daily battle, forced to "convince Republicans that Perry can't beat Obama in November" — so he'll spend the next few months, and buckets of money, trying to "define Perry for voters who are just getting to know him."

"It's Romney-Perry now, with plenty of differences"

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And Perry actually made Romney a better candidate: Before Perry entered the race, a cautious Romney was "disparaged as a fragile frontrunner" who was afraid to be too conservative — or too moderate, for that matter, say Beth Reinhard and Alex Roarty at National Journal. Now Romney is taking risks — challenging Perry's claim that Social Security is unconstitutional, and refusing to sign an anti-abortion pledge. While his rivals squabble over the conservative base, Romney is owning the GOP's center, making him "a better candidate and, potentially, a more formidable nominee."

"Is Rick Perry making Mitt Romney a better candidate?"

But Romney has yet to slow Perry's rise: The "non-Fox News" media and the GOP establishment don't like Perry, says Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog. They "are trying to will Romney to the nomination," like baseball fans waving their hands to make a fly ball to "go over the fence in fair territory when it's heading foul." But Perry probably didn't lose a single conservative voter to Romney this week, and he never will. Perry's "supporters are on the far right, and they're far more numerous" than the moderate Romney's admirers want to admit.

"What makes pundits so sure that Romney will gain if Perry slips?"

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