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Wanted: a GOP dating service

Posted: September 30, 2011 3:36 p.m.
Updated: October 3, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Suddenly, Campaign 2012 is looking like deja vu all over again. Remember how President Barack Obama's fast rise to the White House was boosted here and there by remarkably unlucky opponents? The Republican challengers to his reelection seem almost determined to help him to get lucky one more time.

Obama's 2004 Senate election memorably came after his top opponents in the primary and general election were sidelined by embarrassing revelations from their divorce records. The chosen Republican replacement candidate, former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, lost in a landslide -- making it no longer necessary for him to move from Maryland.

Also fortunately for Obama, his 2008 presidential bid came at a time when voters were hungry for "change." That role is now reversed. Republicans have the "change" advantage, unless they blow it by offering changes that voters don't want.

Meeting that challenge has a large array of Republican candidates and their backers quarreling among themselves, divided between the Grand Old Party's establishment, which is focused on electability, and its upstart tea party-energized grassroots, who seem more determined to be right -- extreme right -- than to win the White House.

The teas should be happy to see Sunday's CNN/ORC International poll. It shows Texas Gov. Rick Perry maintaining his lead for the nomination with 28 percent of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney trails at 21 percent.

However, that does not settle the nervous tummies of party leaders. The same poll shows that Romney fares best against Obama. He basically ties with the president with 48 percent to Obama's 49 percent. But Obama leads Perry, 51 percent to 46 percent.

And Perry has proved to be less pure than many believed. Republicans went gaga over the Texas governor when entered the race in August with press attention and poll numbers that edged out Romney out of the spotlight, along with Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, despite her victory in Iowa's Republican straw poll.

An audience almost as lively as a tea party rally cheered Perry's record for executing more convicts than any other governor in memory, creating the sort of awkward moment that even causes some conservatives to gasp.

But Perry was roundly booed for his opposition to a border fence stretching from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico and his signing of a bill that allows children of illegal immigrants to pay lower in-state tuition at public colleges in Texas. His opponents pounced on both positions, as well as his initiative to require Texas girls to be inoculated against the cancer-linked human papillomavirus, unless their parents opted out.

Lingering discontent with the Republican field showed itself two days later, when Florida Republicans handed a resounding straw poll victory to Herman Cain, the colorful former CEO of Godfather's Pizza who hardly has a pepperoni's chance of actually being nominated.

Immediately, a familiar sign of Republican panic surfaced: breaking news of efforts to draft New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, despite his having asked publicly "What do I have to do short of suicide to convince people I'm not running?"

That's a good question, since I don't think the party's conservative wing is going to be tickled with Christie, either, once they get to know him. He favors "a legal path to citizenship" which tea partiers boo as "amnesty." He favored "some of the gun-control measures we have in New Jersey" in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, who immediately razzed it as a "bad idea."

Christie also has said climate change "is real," although conservatives like Perry call it a hoax. And, horror of horrors, he had been known to praise President Obama's Race to the Top education program and apply for funds. That's reasonable for a big-state governor, but reason doesn't get you very far as a GOP candidate in these angry times.

No wonder Christie is reluctant to run. But that doesn't stop his suitors from asking. "It's starting to look like dysfunctional dating," said Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace on NBC's "Today Show" Tuesday. True. Or a circular firing squad.

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