Gov. Rick Perry's strong first impression on Republicans extends to some of the most politically engaged GOP activists in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, according to a survey conducted this week by The Huffington Post and Patch in the early primary and caucus states.
With Perry set to debate the rest of the Republican field Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., these Republican activists will be watching to see if he lives up to his strong early promise as a leader who seems both ready to be president and able to beat Barack Obama in 2012.
This week, our HuffPost-Patch Power Outsiders poll of 159 political activists, party officials and officeholders in the early primary and caucus states focused on the Texas governor. The survey does not look at a wide swath of Republicans, but rather attempts to listen to the "invisible primary" among influential local activists and political insiders that has historically driven nomination campaigns. We heard from 36 of them in Iowa, 52 in New Hampshire and 71 in South Carolina this week.
We first asked these politically engaged Republicans to use just one word to describe their impression of Rick Perry. More than half of their answers (58 percent) were positive. The most frequent positive words, as presented in the word cloud below, were "leader," "impressive," "decisive," "charismatic," "confident, "electable" and "winner."
Less than a quarter of the responses (24 percent) were negative, including "slick," "fake" and "arrogant."
Some of the answers were either neutral or descriptive in a way that is not clearly positive or negative. The most frequently mentioned terms, "Texas" and "Texan" (7 percent), fall into that category, as do "Bush," "George Bush" and "establishment" (since these responses come from GOP activists and officeholders who are very much a part of their local establishment).
Probing deeper, we found these influential local Republicans to be impressed with Perry in three specific areas. Roughly three out of four describe Perry as someone who takes stands they agree with (75 percent), is ready to be president (77 percent) and can beat Obama in the general election (76 percent). Only a small handful (14 percent on each of the three questions) say these phrases do not describe Perry well.
Moreover, more than one-third say the phrases "would make a good president" and "takes stands on issues you agree with" describe Perry "very well." And nearly half (47 percent) feel strongly that Perry will be able to beat Obama.
This perception of electability among influential Republicans in the early primary and caucus states mirrors findings from the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, which found Republican voters nationwide giving Perry the highest marks on electability. On the question of which candidate has the "best chance to beat Obama," 30 percent in that poll chose Perry, 20 percent opted for Mitt Romney and the other Republicans ran far behind. But Perry scored just 21 percent on which candidate is "closest to you on issues."
Of course, the flip side is that roughly half of the Republicans in the HuffPost-Patch poll are either unsure or only "somewhat" impressed with Perry on the issues and as a potential president. They're waiting to hear more. As one of our South Carolina respondents put it, "the jury is still out" and Perry still "needs to answer the tough questions and provide details on what his plan is to change the direction of the economy." Many tests remain. HuffPost's Jon Ward picked up similar uncertainty about Perry in conversations with both high-profile and ordinary Republicans over the past week.
Perry has moved into the lead as the choice of Republicans nationwide on about a dozen surveys conducted over the last month. Our nonscientific survey shows that his very strong first impression also extends to influential local officeholders, party officials and activists in the early primary states.
Those initial good reviews put Perry in an enviable position going into his first GOP candidate debate. His introduction has raised Republican hopes dramatically. The Wednesday debate and future faceoffs will help determine whether he becomes the consensus choice as the caucuses and primaries begin next year.
The HuffPost-Patch Power Outsiders
All of the individuals listed below have agreed to participate in the Power Outsiders surveys, although not all responded to this week's questions.
Cory Adams (Story County GOP chair), Leah Adams (Co-Chair, Johnson County Republican Women), Chad Airhart (Dallas Co. recorder), Skye Alison (Insurance Sales), Roger Anderson (Member, Johnson County GOP Executive Committee), Shane Blanchard (Waukee City Council), Carmine Boal (Former Congresswoman, now works for governor), Steve Boal (CFO, Accu-Mold), Irene Chalmers-Neubauer (Republican precinct captain), Arleigh Clemens (Co-Chair Johnson County Republicans), Jeremy Davis (Councilman), Tyler DeHaan (IT Services), Debra Derksen (PR person for Johnson County GOP), Mike Elam (Organizer, Dallas County GOP), Paul Fell (Santorum supporter), Amanda Freel (State House Repub Staff), Natalie Ginty (Chairwoman, Iowa Federation of College Republicans), Rick Hermann (Sales Manager, WeatherTech Automotive), William Keettel (Former head, Johnson County Republicans), Kevin Koester (Congressman), Marilyn Krocheski, Jon McAvoy (Head of Dallas County Republicans), Isaiah McGee (Owner, McGee strategies), Chris McLinden (Axis Capital, Businessman), Cynthia Michel (Precinct Captain), Mike Nolan (Republican Party noteable), Bill Peard (Waukee Mayor), Rick Sanders (Republican Supervisor), Mike St. Clair (Lobbyist), Chad Steenhoek (Member, Strong America Now), Wade Steenhoek (Ankeny City Council ), Ronald Stenstrom (Romney Supporter), Karen Svede (Former statewide candidate), Rob Taylor (Running for Iowa House Seat), Mike Thayer (Editor/Publisher Coralville Courier), Deb Thornton (Worked in Republican administrations), Robert Wennerholm (Precinct Captain), Randy Yontz (Director Leadership Institute).
Eric Anderson (Former State Rep/Chair Bow Board of Selectmen), Gary Azarian (State Rep.), David Bates (Rep- Windham), Kathy Benuck (BCTV Host/Blogger), D.J. Bettencourt (State Rep., Maj. Leader), Diane Bitter (Rye Republican activist), Bill Boyd (Town Councilor), Russell Bridle (Former Hampton Fire Department captain/State Rep.), Ed Brooks (Former ME selectman, town councilor), Chris Buck (Republican activist), Chris Buda (Merrimack GOP Chair), Jamie Burnett (Consultant), John Cebrowski (State Rep. - Bedford), Chris Christiansen (State Rep), Mark Cookson (Alderman-at-large), Tim Copeland (State rep.), Jim Costello (American Government teacher), Juanita Dangel (Secretary Hillsborough County GOP), Gary Daniels (State Rep), Ed Declercq (Planning Board), Jerry Delemus (Republican activist), Shari Demers (Activist), Julie DiCarlo (Small business owner), Ron DiCarlo (Small business owner), Bob Duffy (Nashua GOP City Committee), Bob Elliott (State Rep.), Gary Ellmer (Chairman, Porsmouth Republican Committee), Frank Ferraro (Exeter Selectman), Laura Foote (Activist), Mauri Foster (Retired), Sheila Francoeur (Seacoast Republican Women member), Bianca Garcia (Former Salem GOP Victory Office mgr), David Garcia (Salem Town GOP Chair), John Graham (State Rep. - Bedford), Brian Griset (Member of local political committee), Lisa Hansen (Romney supporter), Peter Hansen (State Rep), Pat Hargreaves (Selectman), Jeff Hatch (Salem Romney Town Chair), Ken Hawkins (State Rep - Bedford), Dan St. Hilaire (Executive councilor), Dick Hinch (Current State Rep), Jennifer Horn (Republican activist), David Hurst (New Hampshire Young Republicans chairman), Zac Johnson (Technical writer), Ken Jones (Member of Amherst Republicans), Gary Krupp (Member of the School Budget Committee), Michael Lambert (Resident), Steve Landry (Small business owner), Tom Linehan (GOP Activist), Eduardo Lopez-Reyes (Software engineer), Marie Lopez-Reyes (Sales), Di Lothrop (Nashua GOP City Committee), Stephen E. Ludwick (Chairman, Supervisors of the Checklist, Ward 9), Jim Luther (State Senator), John Lyons (Lawyer), Kris MacNeil (Former State Senate candidate), Joel Maiola (Former Judd Gregg Chief of Staff), Andrew Manuse (State Rep - Derry), George Markwell (School Board Member), Harry McClard (Freelance writer), Patrick McDougall (Budget Committee), Charles McMahon (Rep- Windham), Bill Modis (Vice Chair of Amherst Republicans), Maureen Mooney (Past State Rep), Keith Murphy (State Rep - Bedford), Tasha Olsen (Republican activist), Rick Paige (Loan officer), Michele Peckham (State Rep. - N. Hampton), Amy Perkins (Former State Rep. - Seabrook), Lawrence Perkins (State Rep. - Seabrook), Kathryn Peterson (community activist), Lenette Peterson (State Rep), Lee Quandt (State rep.), Matt Quandt (Exeter Selectman/State Rep.), Tom Rath (Consultant), Fred Rice (State Rep. - Hampton), Jim Rubens (Former Republican State Sen.), Pete Silva (Rep - Nashua), William Smith (Conservative Blogger), Brandon Stauber (Small business owner/recent Exeter transplant), Sen. Nancy Stiles (State Senator - Hampton), Kathy Stroud (State Rep), Chris Tremblay (Activist), Pam Tucker (Deputy House Speaker), Mark Vincent (Chair of Amherst Republicans), Jim Waddell (State Rep. - Hampton), Tom Walker (Conservative Republican), Robert Washburn (Former City Councilor), Kevin Waterhouse (Rep- Windham), Raymond White (State Sen. - Bedford), J. Christopher Williams (Pres. Nashua CC), Tony Zore (Tea Party member)
Aubry Alexander (Charleston City Council - District 9), Thomas Alexander (State Senator), Dean Allen (Tea Party Activist), Charm Altman (President Sea Island Republican Women), Patrick L. Arnold (Campaign and fundraising consultant), Todd Atwater (S.C. Rep. Dist. 87), Rep. Nathan Ballentine (SC House Dist. 71), Bill Banning, Sr. (Vice-chair, Lexington County Council), Bob Barnwell (Richland Co. GOP Spring Valley), Joseph Bates, Jr. (Committeeman/ Richland Co. GOP Dutch Fork ), Eric Bedingfield (State Rep/Congressional Staffer), Lin Bennett (Chair, Charleston County GOP), Rich Bolen (Chair, Lexington County GOP), Andrew Boucher (Business consultant and political advisor), Phillip Bowers (Chairman, Pickens County Republican Party), Dan Bracken (President/ The Auction Co. & Real Estate Inc.), Edward Britt (Engineer), Joe Bustos (Former town councilman), Jay Byars (Dorchester County councilman), "Bob Call (Berkeley County Councilman), "Tim Callanan (Berkeley County GOP Chairman), Mike Campbell (Son of former Gov. Carroll Campbell; co-chairman of Huntsman's S.C. effort), Ed Carter (Small business owner), M. Todd Cullum (Lexington County Council member), Rep. Joe Daning (Statehouse rep.), Smokey Davis (Lexington County Council member), Carroll S. Duncan (Dorchester GOP Chair), Dana Eiser (Lowcountry 9.12 president), Linda Eiser (9/12 conservative), Linda Estep (wife of Pastor at First Baptist Church of Columbia), Chip Felkel (Political Consultant), "Will Folks (Editor, fitsnews.com; spokesman for former Gov. Mark Sanford), "Leland Glen (Author), Chris Godbey (Political Consultant), Susan Grady (Republican activist), Randy Halfacre (Mayor of Lexington), Dan Hamilton (State Representative), Carla Hardee (President, Dutch Fork Chapter of the S.C. Federation of Republican Women), Larry Hargett (Dorchester County Council chairman), Val Hutchinson (Richland County Council), Johnny Jeffcoat (Town of Lexington Economic and Community Catalyst; Lexington County Council member), Jim Jerow (Georgetown GOP Chair), Debbie Jones (9.12 Board Member), Joanne Jones (Republican activist), Grayson Kelly (Fundraiser), James Kinard (Banker, Chair, Lexington County Council), Todd Kincannon (Lawyer/former executive director of SC Republican Party), Bob Kouvolo (President/ MaxPt), Mickey Lindler (Chairwoman for Republicans of Lexington and Richland Counties), Chris Mann (City Councilman), Karen Martin (Organizer/Spartanburg Tea Party), Larry Martin (State Senator), Taft Matney (Conservative Political Consultant), James Metts (Lexington County Sheriff), Matt Moore (Executive Director for SC GOP), Susan Morris (Nonprofit executive director), Mike Murphee (Charleston Tea Party chairman), Brent Nelsen (Professor of Political Science/former candidate for Supt. of Education), Don Nye (Bank employee), Allen Olson (Chairman / Columbia TEA Party), Randy Page (President,South Carolinians for Responsible Government), Gregory Pearce (Richland Co. Councilman), Kathy Perry (Charleston County Republican Women), Adam Piper (SC GOP 3rd Vice Chairman & political director for Huntsman campaign), Zach Pippin (GOP Media Consultant), Tony Pope (Insurance agent), Barbara Pulicicchio (Political activist), Rick Quinn (S.C. Rep. Dist. 69), Dennis Raines (Mayoral Candidate), Jeff Reuer (Vice Chair Goose Creek 9-12), DeLinda Ridings (SC GOP State Secretary / Huntsman campaign), Robby Robbins (Lawyer), Emily Rudolph (Sea Island Republican Women), LaDonna Ryggs (Spartanburg GOP Chair), "Michael Sally (Hanahan City Councilman), "Dennis Saylor (Chair, Aiken GOP), Bill Severns (Rep. for Beaufort Republican Men), Katrina Shealy (Candidate for SC Senate from Lexington), Lanneau Siegling (State Executive Committeeman), Billy Simons (Conservative activist), Garry Smith (State Rep), John Steinberger (Fair Tax activist), Mary Ann Taylor (Charleston County Republican Women/Charleston County School Board), MacLain R. "Mac" Toole (S.C. Rep., Dist. 88), Frank Townsend (Lexington County Council member), September Wellborn (State GOP Delegate), Knox White (Mayor of Greenville), Jennifer Willis (County Councilwoman/ V.P. One Tree Hill), Henry Wilson (2011 delegate, S.C. Republican Convention), James David Woodard (Professor of Political Science, Clemson University), Cheryl Woods-Flowers (Former mayor, Republican official)