Donald Lambro

However, he differs with his party on several fronts. He has suggested there ought to be a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and that being here "without proper documentation is not a crime." He has supported some gun control laws as well as civil unions for homosexual couples.

But conservatives, who may not be aware of these positions, find his blunt speaking style appealing and are pleading for him to run, most recently when he spoke at the Reagan Presidential Library Tuesday night when he called Obama a "bystander in the Oval Office."

Even so, Christie has said he will not be a candidate for one big reason: He doesn't think he's ready. He wants to complete his term as governor, run for a second term, and show some major accomplishments before considering higher office.

Perry and Romney have problems with party purity as well.

Romney's biggest problem has been his enactment of a sweeping state health-care law that requires everyone who can afford it to buy private health insurance, as would Obamacare. He has said it is a state program dealing with a state problem, but has vowed to repeal one-size-fits-all Obamacare and to give waivers immediately to states to drop out.

His strength is his long business career as a venture capital investor whose company provided seed money for promising start-up businesses that, like Staples, grew into major job creators. His advisers think that the recession trumps all other issues.

"I know how to fix the economy. I know how to create jobs," he says.

Perry, on paper, looked like the answer to conservatives who do not trust Romney. He is a longtime conservative governor of a major state with a booming oil economy, no individual income tax, low tax rates and a stellar record of job creation.

But then came his approval 10 years ago of an in-state college tuition break given to children of illegal immigrants, which he defended in a recent debate, saying that anyone who opposed helping these kids get an education was "heartless."

After stinging criticism for his disjointed, often rambling performance in his last presidential debate, a chastened Perry retreated somewhat. Calling his remarks "inappropriate," Perry said he had been "over-passionate" in his answer. "I probably chose a poor word to explain that."

Romney, by the way, said he vetoed a similar state law.

As things stand now, Perry and Romney remain the front-runners in a primary season that begins in just three months, and that seems unlikely to change as things stand right now.

Perry, who surged into the lead soon after he entered the race, has clearly been wounded by his performance in the debates. Romney has made no missteps yet and has stayed focused like a laser beam on the salient issue that will decide the outcome of this election: the jobless Obama economy.

Party purity, all things considered, takes a back seat in that equation.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.