MANCHESTER, NH – Rick Perry’s Granite State headquarters has the feel of a typical campaign office: Red, white, and blue “Perry – President” placards line the walls, young staffers tap away incessantly on keyboards and Blackberries, and dry erase boards are crowded with maps of the state, important dates, and key endorsements. The Texas Governor may have just sustained a series of extraordinary blows in national polling, but you wouldn’t know it from the demeanor of his staffers. The fight goes on, even in rival Mitt Romney’s regional backyard.
Unsurprisingly, several staffers I spoke with are upbeat about Perry’s latest debate performance at Dartmouth College. The word “solid” comes up more than once. “It’s what we needed,” one aide says, expressing relief that Perry “wasn’t a pinanta this time,” unlike in previous debates. They’re also quick to point out that debates are only one small element of a candidate’s overall appeal. Their man, they say, is much more dynamic in person and on the stump, which is why the campaign plans to get Perry in front of as many voters as possible before the first votes are cast in Iowa and New Hampshire. “We’ve adopted a marathon strategy,” one staffer explains. They certainly have the resources to take the long view; Perry raked in over $17 million in under 50 days last quarter.
Paul Young, the former New Hampshire GOP chair who now works for Perry’s campaign, says his team is fighting to overcome some distinct advantages enjoyed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney -- who leads comfortably in most statewide polls. “[Mitt] has been here campaigning for years, really. Compared to him, everyone else is getting in late. Especially us.” Young echoes the sentiment that debates are not the end-all-be-all of a candidate’s ability or electability. “Rick clearly connects in person. In that sense, he’s Clintonesque or Reaganesque in his ability to work a room and make real, personal connections with people. We want to play to that strength,” Young says, adding that Perry is “getting better” at debating.