Mitt Romney appears to have a firm grasp on the 2012 GOP nomination. In terms of polling and, just as important, money, Romney has no competition among the official nominees. Tim Pawlenty and Michelle Bachmann appear to be going after each other for 2nd (and a possible VP nomination) while the other official nominees aren’t even close. There is no doubt that Romney is the default option among Republicans when they nominate.

Chris Christie  is not currently an ‘official’ nominee, though neither is Rick Perry. But Christie doesn’t seem to have interest in running and is further along from jump starting a campaign than Perry, who has already begun laying the groundwork and is gaining traction without even announcing yet.

So, assuming Perry does announce, and Romney doesn’t do anything to derail his solid lead until then, what are the major differences between them and what will determine the nomination? Many would consider them even in categories such as fund raising, looks, etc. They do, however, diverge on several key issues.

Each one will tout their experience as governor. This trait seems to be popular among Presidents as 17 were Governors at some point in their political career. However, Perry has been a governor for ten compared to Romney’s four. Perry also presides over four times as many people as Romney did. But the major difference in their respective runs will be that Perry’s tenure included the recession the country currently faces while his state has done its best to avoid the turmoil and actually enlarge payrolls. Romney? Not so great. Potential negative aspects of Perry’s tenure will include the low standing Texas has when it comes to education. However, with Romney having to defend his state health care plan, I think the education argument gets drowned out.

While the economy will play an important, if not the most important, role in the 2012 election, what happens if Romney manages to poke holes in it or deflate it altogether? Is there anything Perry can fall back on besides his tenure as governor? In my opinion, not much. He’s a lifelong politician who has little experience in the private sector with the exception of a brief stint in the Air Force. Romney co-created the investment firm Bain Capital which was generating over $4 billion in revenue annually by the time he left. He also headed the organizing committee for Salt Lake City to host the 2002 Winter Olympics. If you’re looking for a variety of non-political experiences, I believe Romney has the edge. Even if Perry wanted to play the ‘Washington outsider’ card, he couldn’t do it any better than Romney. 

There’s also stigmas that both will have to face if they are to become the nominee. The obvious one facing Romney is whether America is ready to elect a follower of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints , i.e. a Mormon. Perry will have to fight the political ghost of George W. Bush and the thought of another Texas governor with an accent telling people what’s best. W had an approval rating hovering around 20% at the lowest when the economy was tanking and people realized the war in Iraq was a mistake. Now, he’s enjoyed a bump in his ratings since leaving office, partly because of the post-presidential bump that all presidents get but the stigma is still there. I think opponents on both sides can do more damage with that material than with one’s Mormon faith much like people first thought Barack Obama’s race would have more of a negative affect than it did.

Lastly, and most importantly, who is more electable in the current political climate? Whoever gets it will have a formidable foe in Obama and needs to be just as dynamic. When comparing personalities, I think Perry has this wrapped up. Take his appearance on the Daily Show from last year where he was enthusiastic and didn’t give traditional political answers. Even appearing on the show as a conservative from Texas was a feat. Additionally, you have to consider the demographic that determines these elections –  the independents. Sure, Obama has the inside track from 2008 but when Perry made recent comments about ‘being ok’ with New York’s gay marriage legislation, that was a big step for a major party presidential nominee let alone a Republican. It falls in line with recent polls that suggest more Americans than ever are ‘ok’ with gay marriage and could be a contributing factor to those independents looking for something different. By contrast, the Romney campaign is about as ‘by-the-book’ as you can get as far as a campaign goes. Regarding gay marriage,

“I separate quite distinctly matters of personal faith from the leadership one has in a political sense,” he said. “You don’t begin to apply the doctrines of a religion to responsibility for guiding a nation or guiding a state.”

Yawn. Maybe the campaign has viewed this thing as wrapped up and has, therefore, not taking many chances as of yet. Maybe that will change when/if Perry gets in the race. But one thing is for sure – he’ll have a significant threat to his nomination should Perry decide to shake things up.