Guy Benson

After much media speculation -- including from yours truly -- that Rick Perry's string of shaky debate performances would imperil his perch atop the current GOP presidential field, a brand new national CNN poll shows the Texas Governor holding a seven-point lead over his closest competitor:
 

Despite his performances in the two most recent Republican presidential debates, a new national survey indicates that Texas Gov. Rick Perry remains on top of the field in the race for the GOP nomination. According to the survey, which was released Monday, 28 percent of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say they support Perry as their party's presidential nominee, with Romney at 21 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is at ten percent, with Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who's making his third bid for the White House, former Godfather's Pizza CEO and radio talk show host Herman Cain, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, all at seven percent. The poll indicates that Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is at four percent, with former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania at three percent and former Utah Gov. and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman at one percent.


Perry's advantage has dropped five points from his 12-point edge two weeks ago, but he still enjoys a fairly healthy margin.  His head-to-head numbers against President Obama's numbers also remain competitive within CNN's sample of US adults, although his primary rival fares better:
 

The CNN/ORC International Poll also indicates that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney does better than Perry in hypothetical 2012 general election matchups against President Barack Obama and matches evenly with the president on the issues and on personal characteristics.  The survey indicates that Romney fares best against Obama. It's basically all tied up with 49 percent for Obama and 48 percent for Romney in a hypothetical two-way match-up. According to the poll, Obama holds a five point margin over Perry, 51 percent to 46 percent.


Yes, this poll also shows Ron Paul narrowly outpolling Rick Perry against Barack Obama, which I mention for two reasons:  First, if I didn't, Ron Paul's small army of followers would belligerently accuse me of collaborating in a vast establishment/neocon/media conspiracy against their hero.  Come to think of it, they'll probably do that anyway.  Second, I'm absolutely convinced that Ron Paul is unelectable nationally.  Liberals would back Obama regardless, independents would flock to the unpopular incumbent out of sheer terror over Paul's small government absolutism (elements of which I agree with, but would be effectively demagogued by Democrats --  just google "Ron Paul" and "abolish"), and quite a few conservatives would reject the Texas Congressman over his toxic isolationist / non-interventionist / "it's our fault" foreign policy views.  The fact that he's within four points of Obama at this juncture is a testament both to the prevailing dissatisfaction with this president, and to the truth that most Americans simply aren't paying close attention to the presidential race yet. 

As CNN's write-up notes, "Polls taken more than a year before the election have little or no predictive value."  I think this is largely accurate, so let's focus on the primary election statistics.  The most cringeworthy moment from Perry on Thursday night was this botched attack on Mitt Romney's (eminently assailable) flip-flopping:
 


 

It now appears that exchange and other stumbles (conservatives who disagree with Perry's immigration policies "don't have a heart," evidently), haven't really damaged Perry all that much nationally...yet.  A number of explanatory possibilities come to mind:  (1) Most GOP primary voters didn't see, or hear much about, the debate.  (2) Voters are more forgiving of Perry's flubs and struggles than many media figures are -- including the conservative media.  (3)  Mitt Romney's policy deficiencies are so unacceptable to many within the base that they're willing overlook Perry's major shortcomings.  I think the truth probably involves some combination of the three, although there's no getting around the reality that there is trouble in Perry City.  Among the people who attended last weekend's conventions in Orlando (ie, the voters paying closest attention at this early stage), Perry's stock dropped palpably.  You could see it on people's faces.  You heard about it in casual conversations.  And you unmistakably saw it in the final straw poll results.  Perry's support also took a nosedive among Florida Republicans generally, following the debate:
 

@ppppolls - Thursday night part of our Florida poll Romney led Perry by 2. Friday-Sunday part Romney led Perry by 10. Debate did matter.


I believe reports of the death of Rick Perry's presidential campaign are premature and overblown.  Today's batch of CNN data confirms that suspicion.  But the straw poll results and PPP's numbers hold ominous signs for Team Perry.  They need to get their act together -- and soon -- or else this weekend's semi-contained (for now) micro-collapse will spiral beyond repair. 


Other 2012 news and notes:  The Wall Street Journal explains why Chris Christie isn't running for president, including a quote that might clear up why some heavyweight GOP donors mistakenly believe he's still open to the possibility.   Radio talk show host and comedian Dennis Miller is going all in for Herman Cain -- cutting his campaign a check, and hosting a California fundraiser for the Pizza mogul.  Tea Party Nation founder Judson Philips has endorsed Newt Gingrich.


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography