Mitt Romney displays a motorcycle license plate handed to him by a supporter… (Jim Cole, Associated Press )
Reporting from Washington — Heading into this weekend's straw poll in Iowa, the standout moment of the GOP presidential campaign may be the attack that fizzled: Tim Pawlenty failing to follow through on his verbal jab at Mitt Romney over "Obamneycare" at a June debate.
Since then Romney has been able to stick closely to his front-runner strategy, avoiding unnecessary skirmishing with his GOP rivals and focusing squarely on President Obama. As for Pawlenty — well, one new poll out Tuesday shows him trailing little-known Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, albeit in McCotter's home state of Michigan.
That dynamic is likely to be upended this weekend, with Republicans reuniting on one stage for a Thursday debate and almost everyone but Romney in need of a narrative-shifting moment. And, after a raft of non-announcements by the likes of Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour, a GOP heavyweight with the standing to jar Romney from his perch is about to get into the race in the person of Rick Perry.
All the while, Democrats and Obama's reelection campaign have made little secret of the fact that they view Romney as their likely opponent and are already in full attack mode, as Paul West reported last week.
The Romney campaign signaled it was readying for a new phase of the campaign Tuesday morning, via a response to another report of the Obama camp's aggressive strategy.
"President Obama will say and do desperate things to hold onto power because he knows he has failed. Neither despicable threats, nor President Obama’s billion dollar negative campaign, will put Americans back to work, save their homes, or restore their hopes," campaign manager Matt Rhodes said in a statement emailed to reporters.
A new Gallup poll finds Perry in a good position as he appears set to join the race. Though he trails Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann in name recognition, the Texas governor scores highly in the pollster's "intensity" index — meaning he has strong appeal among those familiar with him.
"If Perry maintains this position as his recognition increases, he has the potential to take over the front-runner position from Romney. At the same time, the increased scrutiny that comes from being an official presidential candidate could make it difficult for Perry to maintain his currently positive image," Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport writes Tuesday.