WASHINGTON — Texas Gov. Rick Perry is close to making a White House bid, but his tardy start has some experts saying his fundraising for a national campaign will be tougher than in donor-friendly Texas, while others believe he's building expectations in a ho-hum GOP field.
While Perry continues to think about running — "nothing's changed," said spokesman Mark Miner — his pursuit of campaign cash is growing in intensity. On July 19, he called in money people from around the country to an Austin meeting and two days later made a California stop for more fundraising confabbing.
Republican fundraisers are expected to gather in Austin on Thursday to assess Perry's ability to amass enough money for a nationwide campaign.
Perry's long-time political adviser David Carney is reaching out to people on the ground in key states, especially Iowa, which holds the first caucuses, and New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state.
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"We're right on the cusp of 'too late,'" said Austin political consultant Bill Miller, who advises clients in both parties. "It's a national campaign and he's going to have to raise money in small increments. In Texas, we've got unlimited contributions and there's lots of people who give him hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time. It's a lot harder to raise it in $2,000 bites than $200,000 bites."
In Texas, one well-known supporter, homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation) has, with his wife, contributed over $2.5 million to the Texas governor from 2001 through Dec. 31, 2010, according to state filings. Rick Perry has been governor since December 2000. In contrast, federal rules limit individual contributions to $2,500 per election.
"Like his predecessor, George W. Bush, Gov. Perry has been extremely reliant on big donors to fill his gubernatorial coffers," said Andrew Wheat, research director for Texans for Public Justice. "From 2001 through 2010, Texans for Rick Perry raised $102 million. Half of that money, $51 million, came from the 204 contributors who gave him aggregate totals of $100,000 or more."
Former Bush political guru Mark McKinnon, who is Austin-based, said that his success in Texas is likely to translate on the national stage. "Perry will do fine with fundraising," he said. "He has a national network as result of chairing the Republican Governor's Association."
And his prospects for winning voter support are also good, McKinnon said.
"Given how dissatisfied voters are with the field, I would say it's an advantage that Perry is starting late," said McKinnon. "He's going to be the new flavor of the day for voters hungry for something different than what they've seen so far."
Recent polls show the not-announced Perry already making a respectable showing. As of July 22, both CNN and Fox News have the Texas governor at 14 percent, nipping at frontrunner former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney who is at 16 percent in the CNN poll and 17 percent in the Fox News poll.
"Republicans are not entirely satisfied with their field. He's filling an opening," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "There's always excitement for the new guy."
As for the late entry, just six months before New Hampshire's primary, Sabato said, "It's relatively late but not too late," noting that then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton entered the presidential race in October 1991.
Fort Worth lawyer Dee Kelly, who is close to the billionaire Bass family and influential in GOP political circles, sees the race as "wide open."
"This field is not complete. There's a lack of enthusiasm about the field," said Kelly, who has not committed to any candidate but likes the Texas governor. "The key is whether he can bridge the gap between the Tea Party and the traditional Republicans, the Bush people."
Perry, a fiscal conservative, aligned early with the Tea Party in Texas.
But to political aficionados, Perry's test will be fund-raising — with the need to raise as much as $10 million in the primary process.
"Timing is an issue because a pyramid of fundraisers takes time to build out," said Pat Oxford, chairman of the Houston law firm Bracewell Guiliani. "A lot has to be sequenced and the political people in New Hampshire and Iowa will be screaming for the candidate's time."
"It's totally a different game, fundraising at the federal level," said Oxford. "Anyone who gives $1,000 or more wants to see the guy."
GOP consultant Reggie Bashur is convinced Perry will run. And some of his Texas allies believe his announcement will come likely shortly after the "fast and pray" event he's called for Aug. 6 in Houston. And if he does make the move, he will have the foundations of money and organization in place.
"If he gets in the race, then there's a conviction he can win," said Bashur of Austin. "He wouldn't be doing this on a hope and a prayer."
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