10%. Those are the odds that the bettors at Intrade are giving Rick Perry to win the Republican Party’s nomination for President. Considering Perry’s precipitous fall in the polls over this last month, many think these odds are warranted. However, I think they are underselling the Texans’ chance to win the nod for the following reasons.
Mitt Romney’s Ceiling
Mitt Romney is not as strong as he seems. Yes he has done well in debates. Yes he has looked the most presidential. But he has yet to take any body blows on his Massachusetts mandate and he still does not crack 25% in most polls. The most troubling part of the polling is that while Perry’s support has fallen, it has gone to Herman Cain and not to Romney. Cain is merely a placeholder for the most conservative voters who right now are dwelling on Governor Perry’s immigration stand. These voters will come home to Perry – after all Cain is more intent on hawking his book rather than campaigning in the early primary states.
Rick Perry has put up an extremely impressive quarter of fundraising, out-raising the longer established Romney campaign. But the most important thing in these numbers is the burn rate. While Perry spent only 10% of his money, Governor Romney spent 30% of his funds. This means Perry may have a significant funding advantage down the stretch. Even right now, Governor Perry has more cash on hand than Romney even though he has been raising money for one less quarter.
In Moneyball, Michael Lewis famously documented how the common wisdom of old scouts in baseball was out of line with what data suggested drove results on the baseball field. It documented how Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics General Manager, used this discrepancy to drive his team to success. In that vein, Dave Carney (Rick Perry’s chief strategist), is the Billy Beane of politics. During Perry’s 2006 campaign he brought in academic experts to run various tests on what campaign practices actually worked, and which ones didn’t. They found out intriguing things that run against conventional wisdom:
1) Media coverage is highly overrated. In the 2010 campaign, Perry didn’t debate Houston Mayor Bill White once or visit any editorial boards. Perry also makes very few television appearances – even Sean Hannity complained that it was hard to book Perry.
2) People make voting decisions based on neighbors organizing and convincing each other, not through the media coverage. So while the media attempts to declare his campaign dead, Perry and Carney don’t really care.
3) Unearned media is only valuable late in the game. The professors’ research found that the benefits of television advertisements dissipated after one week, and that direct mail was ineffective all together. So the Perry campaign believes in saving all their resources until a last minute, huge television ad buy rather than trying to combat the media narrative by wasting money on ads before they drive any votes. This strategy lends itself to a last minute rise in the polls, rather than peaking too early.
All these lessons make the Perry campaign look artificially weaker in the polls than they plan to be on Election Day. The plan for Governor Perry is to peak in the year of the election and not the year before (see Fred Thompson). While he may ultimately prove unsuccessful he may, at the very least, have a lot better chance than the 10 % that the markets are giving him of winning the Republican nomination for President in 2012.