Commentary: Rick Perry and Super Tuesday 'what ifs'

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramMarch 5, 2012 

For now, Rick Santorum is living out Gov. Rick Perry's dream.

Six months ago, this looked to be Perry's week.

By now, he would have swapped victories and momentum with Mitt Romney, setting up a Super Tuesday sweep in delegate-rich Texas and the South.

Instead, Perry is home.

So are Texas Republicans, who didn't manage to submit lawful election maps in time.

"Yes, Santorum is living Perry's dream, but Perry would have been so much better at it," said Adam Schiffer, a Texas Christian University political science professor.

"If he had been the candidate religious leaders hoped, he could have had that constituency locked up like Santorum. But Perry would have had broader appeal."

Perry's campaign launched when some ministers became concerned that Newt Gingrich wouldn't run hard and Santorum couldn't win.

But Perry also won support from business leaders who view Santorum as a Senate washout with no executive experience.

"No other candidate so effectively blended both the social and economic wings of the party" as Perry, said political science professor Jerry Polinard of the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.

"Instead, he will appear prominently in every future textbook on campaign mistakes."

Had Perry not tripped over his tongue early and often, he would be talking mostly about jobs and economic growth by now, not sex, college snobs or John F. Kennedy, the topics of Santorum.

(When the contraception question came up, Perry could tell how his father-in-law did his vasectomy.)

"Of all the candidates who started last May and June, it's unbelievable that Rick Santorum would be the challenger left," Schiffer said.

As recently as Dec. 26, Perry and Santorum were tied in one Iowa poll. Then an endorsement from a Focus on the Family affiliate gave Santorum a lift.

If Perry's campaign seemed jinxed, so did the mapmaking by Texas Republicans.

Had they satisfied the courts and the Justice Department -- they had more than a year to draw maps -- Texas would have been Tuesday's biggest prize.

"It would have put Texas in the thick of things," said Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political science professor.

With Perry backing Gingrich, the three-way campaign would have had the "feel of a Southern primary," Jillson said.

Republicans would have loved it.

Conservatives might have given Gingrich or Santorum a big victory.

The big turnout would have helped moderates and incumbents down ballot.

May 29 won't be as much fun.

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