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Rick Perry's Texas Problem

At TNR yesterday, the ever-estimable Jonathan Bernstein published a spirited challenge to an earlier TNR piece by Abby Rapoport (and more indirectly, to one of my columns) suggesting that Rick Perry's record in Texas could become a problem for him in a presidential run. Here's his basic argument:

There's nothing Rapoport or Kilgore mention that should slow Perrymentum in the nomination process. But let me make the argument broader: It's not at all clear to me that prior accomplishments in office are particularly important for any candidate seeking the presidential nomination.

Jonathan goes on to make a persuasive case that the governing records of presidential nomination candidates matter in setting down ideological markers for important interest groups, but their actual success or failure doesn't matter much at all. In Perry's case, some of his more dubious policies checked the right boxes for conservative elites and activists, so who cares if they didn't actually work or displeased many Texans?

[N]either Rapoport nor Kilgore has, at least as far I can see, unearthed any issues with Perry's record that will cause any trouble with important organized groups within the GOP.

Fair enough. But now comes some evidence for the relevance of Perry's record that's not so easy to brush off: a new PPP poll showing that Perry would currently lose to Barack Obama (by a 47-45 margin) in Texas. The same poll shows Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann leading Obama in Texas, and Herman Cain tied with the president. By a robust 59-33 margin, Texans say Perry should not even run.

Keep in mind that Perry has been governor of Texas since 2001. It's not like he suffers from low name recognition. And this is a state that no winning Republican presidential candidate can afford to lose or even run closely in, given its history and partisan complexion, much less a favorite (or in this case, not-so-favorite) son.

Now I'm the first to argue that "electability" is an overrated factor in presidential nomination contests, and that could be particularly true in 2012, with most conservatives convinced that Barack Obama is the most self-evidently bad president since James Buchanan. But it's a factor nonetheless. And if you are Rick Perry, contemplating a late entry into the contest as the party savior against a weak field, looking exceptionally weak in your own conservative state could be a real problem. I also think Jonathan may underestimate the extent to which Perry's alleged "economic miracle" in Texas, which was the main subject of Rapoport's piece, is a significant part of his appeal to GOP elites looking for the perfect contrast to Obama. That the alleged beneficiaries of Perry's stewardship of Texas' economy aren't that jazzed about him could call that narrative into question in a serious way.

It's always possible the PPP poll is an outlier, or that Texans will warm to their governor's presidential aspirations if he runs, but it's hardly good news for Perry as he gets ready to decide whether to take the plunge. If nothing else, the home folks are stubbornly refusing to polish his halo.