Perry’s Bachmann hurdle

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Texas Governor Rick Perry has surged to the top of the GOP presidential polls, and his closest competitor for the nomination, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, has taken notice.

Perry’s team knows that for Perry to get past Romney, he’ll have to solidify his position as the standard bearer of tea partiers and social conservatives.

Unless Sarah Palin enters the mix — a move that would likely favor Romney and hinder Perry — the Texas governor’s chief rival for the affection of fiscal and social conservatives is Michele Bachmann.

As respected political observer and longtime Perry watcher Cal Jillson notes, job one for Perry is to make Bachmann irrelevant, so that Perry “can go one on one with Mr. Romney.”

So how does Perry remove Bachmann from the equation? By touting a strong jobs record and “making eyebrow-raising comments” on issues ranging from global warming to Federal Reserve practices. Perry’s recent slew of signature statements may befuddle the mainstream media, independents and some establishment Republicans, but, according to Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen, they seem to place Perry “perfectly in line with the GOP base” and have pushed him into the lead in Iowa, the first Republican nominating contest.

With media scrutiny intensifying, Team Romney on high alert and several GOP debates scheduled over the next couple of months, the question for Perry will be: Can he sew up the conservative mantle and dispense with Bachmann before he goes so long on the rhetoric that he becomes too polarizing to win the general election? If Perry is able to narrow the field to him and Romney, and do it in a timely manner, Team Romney could find itself in real trouble, because as Marc Thiessen observes: “Perry is the exciting guy in the cowboy boots who people fall in love with. Romney is … the guy you settle for.”

Perry is certainly engaged in a very dangerous political game that could ultimately alienate independents, particularly in the all-important battleground states of Florida and Ohio. If Perry continues to fire from the hip in a relatively unchecked manner and does not choose his words more wisely, he will provide Romney’s campaign with a treasure trove of greatest hits that could give credence to the claim that Romney is the best candidate for the general election. And while Republicans love a fighter, they know they can’t endure four more years of Obama.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are the co-founders of CivicForumPAC and advisors to conservative candidates on Internet outreach, communications and campaign strategy.