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Rick Perry's 'Marathon' Run to the Nomination May Now Be a Long March

After a disappointing fifth place finish, Perry said he was going back to Texas to “reassess” his campaign. Some have suggested he is all but certain to drop out after having spent some $4 million in Iowa, only to get 10% of the vote. He spent upwards of $300 per vote, compared to just 73 cents for Santorum. To be sure, that’s bad, but perhaps it isn’t nearly as bad as people make it out to be when there were only a few thousand votes separating the first from last.

It isn’t over yet. After all, Governor Rick Perry likes to run. He tweeted a picture of himself running, wearing his Texas A&M running shorts and giving a thumbs-up, with the caption “the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State. … Here we come South Carolina!!!”

Perry likes running so much that, on one occasion in 2010, with his laser-sighted pistol in hand, he killed a coyote while running, sending it “to where coyotes go.” He believes that jogging can help him get his mojo back and win the Iowa caucus after suffering spinal surgery this summer.

Now he’s running in his eleventh straight election–the first out of Texas–for the presidency. So how’s Perry doing in his first national bid?

Not well. Indeed, if you believe the conventional political narrative, his campaign ended when he said “oops” during a November debate. Political commentary was unforgiving. Larry J. Sabato spoke for many when he said, “To my memory, Perry’s forgetfulness is the most devastating moment of any modern primary debate.”

But as so often is the case, the conventional narrative is wrong–or, at least, exaggerated. Governor Perry is actually doing quite well. Does this sound like a moribund campaign?

The Perry campaign had signed up between 1,300 to 1,500 precinct leaders across Iowa, and more than 500 volunteers from 32 states traveled to the Hawkeye State in the days before the caucuses. Bob Haus, Perry’s Iowa state chairman, said the volunteers had made 50,000 phone calls, including 10,000 on Monday alone, and knocked on more than 1,000 doors. (Via ABC News)

That compared favorably to the other candidates on the ground. Ron Paul, for example, has 1,480 precinct leaders, and there are 1,774 precincts in Iowa. Perry will assuredly lose both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, but strong, respectable showings in both races could set him up for South Carolina and Florida, where he can make a stand. He has but to work, and wait.

If he does do well south of the Mason-Dixon Line, he may well have to thank Mitt Romney, whose relentless ads against Newt Gingrich have all but taken the former Speaker of the House out of the race. Gingrich, still the frontrunner in South Carolina and Florida, has been caught flatfooted fighting Romney. Gingrich has wasted valuable time to rebut the charges rather than make the case for himself. Gingrich lacks both the money and the organization necessary to respond to these ads, so his start will likely fall in the South.

Rick Perry has both those resources in abundance. He has one more that is often lacking among his opponents for the nomination: charm. I personally witnessed Perry’s charm offensive when I served as a fellow at the Wall Street Journal this past summer. In person, Perry is funny, self-deprecating, and yet still the alpha dog. He didn’t win that many elections by being unlikeable. Perry understands that there is a long march to the nomination. Iowa is, as he has put it, “mile one” in a “marathon” run to the nomination.

Perhaps he can take heart that, as a sign of the strength of his campaign, Politico has targeted his campaign by relying on anonymous sources as is their bailiwick. That led to a memorable exchange between Perry and Politico’s Mike Allen:

Perry was right not to respond to these accusations, even if they were true. As anyone who has worked on a campaign knows, there are all manner of reasons that insiders on a campaign would go to the media anonymously. These anonymous sources might be hoping to neutralize foes within the campaign, or to promote their own career.

Assuming Perry can do well in the Southern primaries, the challenge for him will be to broaden his support outside of the South. His Texan accent will be a liability. Perry can neutralize this attack by pointing to the fact that unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, he is not a son of privilege–he grew up on a farm that had lacked indoor plumbing. He did not attend Bush’s high school alma mater, Phillips Andover (tuition in 2012: $42,350) or Obama’s Punahou (tuition in 2012: $18,450). He attended Paint Creek High School with a handful of fellow Texans, graduating–as he jokes–in the top ten… of thirteen.

Above all, Perry is at home in the white working class, the very electorate that even David Brooks of the New York Times notes will be crucial in this election

, and which Rick Santorum tapped to great effect in his Iowa campaign.

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