On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, the two Texans running for president stand in dramatically different positions – one almost certainly poised to look like a winner, the other almost certain to fall dramatically short of expectations.
Ron Paul, the unorthodox Houston-area congressman, may not finish first after Tuesday night’s caucuses. But he doesn’t have to win to look like a winner. His position in recent polls suggests Paul will leave Iowa with a stronger showing than all but his most ardent devotees expected.
Rick Perry, the Texas governor who’s never lost an election, has run a campaign that’s captured so little support, the latest poll of Iowa Republicans puts him in fifth place. His poor showing has already generated discussion among Texas politicos about how badly he’s damaged his reputation and whether he’ll run for re-election as governor.
Perry spent the night before the caucuses rallying voters in Perry, Iowa, an old railroad town where many Republican activists are still trying to decide who they’ll support.
“You don’t have to settle for something less than what your values are,” Perry told voters, appealing to conservatives looking for an alternative to Mitt Romney. “And I can assure you that every day that goes by we’re going to get stronger. We’re the only one in that race that has those proven conservative values.”
But earlier in the day, outside the hotel where Perry later spoke, a couple of Iowa Republicans who say they often spend winters in Texas, posted campaign signs for Rick Santorum.
“I like Rick Perry a lot,” said Ernie Rudolph. “He’s my second choice. And he might have been the first choice if he’d gotten here earlier.”
That sentiment echoes among many Iowa Republicans who believe Perry waited too long to enter the fray, then spent less time in the state than other social conservative favorites like Santorum.
“I know that there’s been a lot of emphasis on what has happened in the first couple of debates and him having a couple of errors in those debates,” said Linda Rudolph. “It takes a while to kind of undo those ‘oops.’ ”
Even Iowans who haven’t made up their minds think the Texas governor made a mistake by spending less time here than other candidates. Many of them, like Karl Harris, are especially impressed with Perry’s affable personality on the campaign trail.
“I don’t know if he just hasn’t got the message out across the state or not,” Harris said. “Santorum, he’s been to all the town hall meetings and stuff. Perry hasn’t done quite as much on the ground.”
Meanwhile, Paul returned to Iowa for appearances on the eve of the caucuses after making one final unorthodox move in his campaign here. He spent the weekend before the caucuses with his family in Lake Jackson, enjoying the warmth of Texas before returning to the frozen farmlands of the people he hopes will make him the front-runner in the Republican presidential race.