Rick Perry: The new GOP frontrunner?

After months of speculation and waiting, the Texas governor is indeed running for president. Time for Mitt Romney to start looking over his shoulder?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As his spokesperson has confirmed, Texas Gov. Rick Perry will officially declare Saturday what everybody already knows: He's a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination. And a formidable one, too. A new national CNN/ORC International poll finds that Perry is already neck-and-neck with frontrunner Mitt Romney, at least among Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP. Perry, at 15 percent, is just two points behind Romney — a gap that is within the survey's margin of error. Does such a strong showing, before he's even begun campaigning, make Perry the candidate to beat?

Romney's days as unchallenged frontrunner are over: Perry will "parachute into the race at just the right moment," says Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary. Tim Pawlenty's (admittedly "tinny") attacks on Michele Bachmann in Thursday's debate put a dent in her campaign, and she's the only serious candidate who can compete with Perry for the love of religious conservatives and Tea Partiers. If Bachmann continues "losing steam," Perry and Romney will be the only "plausible candidates."

"Pawlenty's kamikaze raid on Bachmann may be a gift to Perry"

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But Perry is hardly a shoo-in: "Perry's appeal to Republicans is not hard to fathom," says Joshua Green at The Atlantic. His "overt religiosity" and Tea Party fervor go over big with the base. Plus, Perry has piled up solid achievements as the longest-serving governor in Texas history — including the creation of many, many jobs. (One study says that since mid-2009, more than a third of the nation's new jobs came from Texas.) But he "still has a long way to go." Perry "has never run outside Texas," so he's entirely unproven as a national candidate. And after eight years of George W. Bush, Americans may not embrace another Texas governor quite yet.

"Another Texan for president?"

If Perry's a frontrunner, the GOP is in trouble: The common wisdom is that "Perry is an immediate frontrunner because he's more palatable than Bachmann," says Alex Pareene at Salon, which only means that, in the eyes of the GOP "establishment," he's the best "evangelical nitwit with fringe tendencies" on offer. But Perry's "flirtations with neo-Confederate organizations and symbols" — and his well-publicized flirtation with the possibility of Texas' secession— should "immediately and permanently disqualify him from being taken seriously for national office." This love affair may not last long.

"If Rick Perry is seriously a presidential frontrunner there's something wrong with all of us"

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