While Mitt Romney is isn't making any special effort to attract Tea Party voters, Rick Santorum is trying to convince them that social conservatism is integral to Tea Party values. But Newt Gingrich is floating a new strategy - tempt Tea Party voters with Gov. Rick Perry and a Gingrich/Perry ticket. It may just change the course of the election.
FOX News is reporting that Gingrich and Perry might announce their ticket before the RNC convention in order to appeal to Tea Party and conservative voters, thereby capturing enough delegates to ensure that no nominee is chosen prior to the August GOP convention. A convention without a pre-determined nominee is far different from a brokered convention, in which other players (Palin, Daniels, Christie, fill-in-the-blank-with-someone-you-like) could get in on the action. This would involve the same four players (Santorum, Romney, Gingrich and Paul). Their delegates, however, would be free to vote for any of the candidates after the first round. A Gingrich/Perry ticket could give them a reason to change their minds.
According to the report, "Gingrich aides hope forming a predetermined ticket with Perry will unite the evangelical, Tea Party and very conservative voters that make up the core of the GOP."
Some Perry insiders seem wary.
As discussions got underway, two senior aides to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out of the race and endorsed Gingrich, had not heard of the potential ticket and seemed dismissive. One noted that in the past, Perry has likened the Vice Presidency to a bucket of warm spit. Still, Gov. Perry volunteered his services when he endorsed Gingrich in South Carolina, so he may be on board if it's little more than a joy ride in a trial balloon.
A Santorum aide has referred to the speculation as a Hail Mary pass, intended to get some buzz ahead of the Alabama and Mississippi primaries. According to American Research Group, Gingrich has a slight lead in Mississippi, and a Wall Street Journal survey has a virtual tie between Gingrich and Romney in Alabama.
Whatever its intended purpose, the strategy could turn out to be a stroke of genius. Although his debate performances sunk him, Perry was a Tea Party favorite from early on, and the clear favorite of new media, with endorsements from Mike Flynn of Breitbart.com's Big Government, Dan McLaughlin of RedState.com and AceofSpadesHQ.
The Tea Party has no candidate that can sufficiently rally them in voice and numbers and dollars. To date, they are not as vocal in this election as they were in 2010 because, like America, they are waiting for a nominee before they go full out (as well as focusing their attention on winning the Senate and keeping the House as a hedge against an Obama re-elect.)
Introducing Perry into the discussion may be a hail mary pass. It's a high risk play with a small chance of success. But if it connects with voters, it's a winner.