I suspect that part of the reason Perry, Palin, and Giuliani fare so well is a prevailing sense among Republicans that the current field is lackluster. A well-known, prominent addition to the lineup would definitely make a splash, although shiny new candidate X's impact could bery well prove transient. Perry is far less of a household name than Palin or Rudy, so name recognition only goes so far in explaining the Texas Governor's early appeal. Much of it has to do with his economic record, which is stellar. The numbers on job creation alone speak for themselves:
In this five-year window, Texas added more than half-a-million new jobs, while California lost over one million. The post at the link above also notes that since the current recession tecnhically ended in 2009, Rick Perry's Texas has added as many jobs as the other 49 states combined. These statistics simply cannot be shrugged off in an era of 9.2 percent unemployment. And as Perry's fans like to point out, he also "inhereted an economy" from George W. Bush.
Perry's strong federalist streak is also appealing to many conservatives, even if it sometimes leads to outcomes that some may find undesirable. For example, Perry recently declined to condemn New York's decision to legalize gay marriage, arguing that Empire State policy is "their business." As Governor, Perry signed onto a healthcare compact that would designate all healthcare policy and funding to the states. Eric O'Keefe, the chairman of the Healthcare Compact Alliance, explained the goals of the measure: "It tells the federal government to keep its regulations off of states, send states their [Medicaid, Medicare, SCHIP] money through block grants, and we'll handle healthcare ourselves. People can decide where they'd like to live."
This compact -- which has been adopted by four states so far -- will likely excite many conservative primary voters, and Perry may tout his support for the plan as a candidate. From a policy perspective, the compact is a governance reform, shifting "the locus of power on healthcare to the states," O'Keefe says. It does not, however, make policy prescriptions. This means that Mitt Romney's 'MassCare' program would actually be permissible under the compact Perry has embraced. So in burnishing his own conservative bona fides on healthcare policy, Perry may actually provide an opening for Romney -- his closest competitor in the Gallup poll -- an opening to (again) try to defend his plan using federalist arguments.
Still, I suspect that's a debate Perry would be eager to have.