Rick Perry has support of 29 per cent of Republicans

Rick Perry, who hopes to be the GOP's 2012 presidential candidate, has the support of a third of Rep

Rick Perry, US Presidential hopeful and current Governor of Texas, has the support of 29 per cent of Republican primary voters, according to a new Rasmussen poll.

Michele Bachmann, who is also hoping to challenge Obama for the presidency in 2012, has the support of only 13 per cent of the 1,000 Republicans surveyed. 18 per cent said they would vote for Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts. Despite coming close behind Bachmann on Saturday's straw poll, Texas Congressman Ron Paul is trailing on nine per cent. Hermann Cain is at six per cent, Newt Gingrich - former House Speaker - is at five per cent, and Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman are both at one per cent. Thaddeus McCotter polled zero per cent, and 16 per cent were undecided.

Perry is currently campaigning in Iowa, where a straw poll on Saturday indicated that Michele Bachmann had the support of 30 per cent of GOP voters. Perry's support is disproportionately high amongst Tea Party supporters, of whom 39 per cent say they would vote for him. However, amongst non Tea Party supporters, Romney is leading over Perry by a small margin, and his overall rating is higher than that of both Bachmann and Perry, at 77 per cent.

President Obama himself is currently on a three-day tour of Midwestern states, including Iowa, whose votes he will need if he is to remain in office after the 2012 election. The first Republican primary vote will be held in Iowa in February next year.

US political commentator Professor Dan Drezner has said that "Perry vs. Obama would be the largest policy gap between nominees since... Reagan-Mondale?"

Alex Massie, writing for the Spectator, has cast doubt on whether Perry's Federalist outlook "can survive the horrors of a national campaign", due to his reactionary views on issues such as gay rights and the environment. The Huffington Post has also suggested that Perry is disliked in his hometown, where he is seen as glib and superficial, having "turned his back on Haskell" (the county from which he hails).

Although many commentators believe Obama will face stiff competition in 2012, there is disagreement as to whether Perry will prove a formidable opponent. His extreme views alienate many moderates, even if his support from the Tea Party ensures he makes many headlines, adding to a perhaps artificial sense of his popularity. The Rasmussen poll does suggest that Perry is a divisive figure: 38 per cent of voters hold a "very favourable" opinion of him, against 32 per cent for Bachmann and 21 per cent for Romney, but Romney's overall favourable rating is higher.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.