Commentary: Perry's candidacy might be a boon for third-party candidates

First, Mike Huckabee took a verbal poke at Gov. Rick Perry last week, asking why His Holy Hairness felt called to support Rudy Giuliani last election.

Then, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison took a swat, telling MSNBC that she prefers a candidate with "real business experience," meaning anybody but Perry.

The game of Rick Perry Piñata has begun, with players from TV comedians to other presidential hopefuls taking swings at the governor for his Marlboro Man looks and similarly toxic flaws.

But the most damaging news of the week for Perry might have been buried deep in a Rasmussen Reports poll.

If Perry were the Republican nominee against President Barack Obama, 10 percent of the voters phoned on July 6-7 said they would vote for a third-party candidate.

With 1 in 10 voters looking elsewhere, Perry would lose to Obama, 44 percent to 39 percent.

That's the worst third-party turnaround of any Republican.

In a Rasmussen poll days earlier, voters wanted former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney over Obama, 43 percent to 42 percent, even though 8 percent of voters said they'd choose a third-party candidate.

In other words, maybe the governor isn't uniting moderates, the Tea Party and religious conservatives the way his hallelujah chorus claims.

"People tell me that with Rick Perry, they're afraid what they see is not what they are going to get," said Houston lawyer Kathie Glass, Perry's Libertarian opponent in 2010.

The Tea Party movement grew out of distrust in politics, she said: "He's more of the same kind of politician that has driven that growth. ... Look at him now, the way he's milking this. It's like a striptease, tantalizing us."

In Waco, Tea Party co-founder Toby Marie Walker said she warns others to stay away from third-party talk. But she's concerned.

"If the Republicans in Washington don't deliver what conservatives thought we voted for, that talk's going to start," she said.

She has friends who will vote third-party if Republicans choose Romney, she said, because of his state healthcare plan and acceptance of the human role in global warming.

Weatherford Tea Party co-founder Dawn King said she wants a conservative. All the Republicans "have some glaring weakness," she said.

Even if Perry runs, "it's still wide-open."

Some of those third-party voters might be Texans.

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