John writes (quoting Kevin Williamson’s fine profile of Perry),

“’If Jeb Bush’s name were Jeb Smith, he’d be the next president of the United States,’ says Texas governor Rick Perry, and then there’s a long pause in the conversation to let pass the unspoken corollary: ‘And if Rick Perry were the governor of Florida . . . ‘” This quote shows the degree to which even Perry is aware that the Bush name and the Texas “brand” have unsettling effects of for the a successful campaign—at least in its appeal to independents.”


It is true that “if Rick Perry were the governor of Florida” he would, initially, be in an even stronger position to run for President, but not (at least not primarily) because of the weakness of the Texas brand among persuadable voters.  A candidate being elected as a conservative Republican governor, enacting bold right-of-center policies and being decisively reelected in Florida gives us different information than a candidate doing the same thing in Florida.  For almost a generation, Texas Senate, governor and presidential races have all been polarized in such a way that right-leaning and Republican-leaning voters were a clear majority.  In 2008, a weak Republican candidate, running against a strong Democratic candidate in a horrible environment for Republicans, won Texas by 12%.  That means that Perry could have been elected and reelected without winning any of those kinds of people who would elsewhere be considered the decisive “swing voters.”  Florida is much more closely divided.  In the last five presidential elections, the Democrats and Republicans have each (clearly) won Florida twice and one presidential contest was, quite famously, a virtual tie.  Florida has a Republican and a Democratic Senator.  A popular and successful conservative Republican governor of Florida has to have shown appeal to swing voters.  So, all other things being equal, a popular and successful Republican Florida governor goes into a nomination contest more “electable” than would a comparable Texas governor.  But here is the thing,


1.  Over the long-term, the candidate’s performance in the nomination contest will matter much more than their state of origin.  If Perry has a message and demeanor that appeals to a broad range of voters, then he will do well.  Being from Texas won’t stop that from happening.  Being from Texas has limited his opportunities (and the need) to win over swing voters.  Maybe he can win over persuadables and maybe he can’t.  If it turns out he can’t, he never would have become governor of Florida in the first place.


2.  Running for President is so different from running for governor that it is tough to predict who will do well and who won’t.  As a budget cutting pro-lifer from a Democratic-leaning state, Tim Pawlenty should have shown appeal to a broad group of voters.  He has (so far) shown just about no appeal to anybody (though I’m not counting him out just yet.)  Perry might have appeal outside of Texas that we never guessed at.  I’m not betting on it, but stranger things have happened.       

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