As many commentators have already noted, the pursuit of the Republican Party’s nomination for president has been one of the most — if not the most—unpredictable races in the modern era.
And votes are yet to be cast.
No candidate typifies the capriciousness of the race thus far better than Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
And now Perry, once thought to be written off, is polling in double-digits again in Iowa and South Carolina. What makes Perry different from the others who rose just as quickly as they fell is his strong grassroots organization.
At the center of that organization is Katon Dawson, a former state GOP chair who nearly became the national chair in 2009. Dawson originally was aligned with Newt Gingrich, but jumped ship when the former Speaker appeared to lose interest in his own campaign.
If Dawson has any regrets about abandoning Gingrich—who is well ahead of Perry in the latest polling — he is hiding them well. If anything, he seems emboldened by Perry’s chances.
“People are taking another look at Gov. Perry,” said Dawson. “I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen on the ground.”
Both Dawson and David Wilkins, another notable Perry backer, believe that much of the Republican base is still undecided. . The numbers present a real opportunity for Perry given his strong presence in the state, a presence that allowed him to outpace the rest of the field in third quarter fundraising.
Wilkins believes all the undecided voters in the base are the reason there has been such volatility in polling numbers. “That’s I think it’s an indication that many voters have not yet settled on a candidate,” he said.
Some thought Perry lost some of the momentum he recovered recently with a controversial commercial that linked gays in the military to school prayer. It spawned a backlash that led to dozens of unflattering spoofs. The ratio of people who dislike the ad to those who liked it is better than 30 to 1.
Dawson, however, found the ad effective. “Governor Perry believes the military should not be used for political purposes,” he said. “That was the point of the commercial.”
Despite all the tumult, Dawson believes the party will unite behind whoever ends up being the nominee, “The desire to replace the person who is in the White House will override whatever divisions there are in the Republican Party,” he said.
Dawson is confident that Perry’s organization in South Carolina, where he has 13 employees, will ultimately be the difference between him and the other contenders.
Wilkins, a former state Speaker of the House and Ambassador to Canada who worked on the Bush campaign in 2000, said that race was very different from this one in that a frontrunner was established early on.
“There just is a lot of jockeying around compared to back then,” Wilkins said. “There have been people at 18 and 20 percent at different points, but nobody up in the 35-40 percent area. “It seems like whoever moves up gets put in the firing line and falls back.”
Nevertheless, Wilkins believes that crunch time, as it were, has arrived. “The race has been fluctuating every week but voters will really start tuning in after Christmas,” he said.
Which means the very unpredictability that hurt Perry in the fall could end up helping him when it matters most.