Over the weekend, the Rick Perry campaign swung an upper-cut at the GOP front-runner Mitt Romney about his Mormonism. I believe this will play well where it matters: in the GOP primary. In the South, a vast majority of Baptists believe that Mormonism is a cult; for decades, such has been a regular topic of apologetic conferences, sermons, Sunday School lessons, and radio talk shows like the Bible Answer Man. It doesn’t matter what Rick Perry claims to believe; the bell has been rung. This map shows the devastating effect of this particular attack; a sizeable part of the red (which denominates Baptist) may not support Romney merely because he is a Mormon. (A poll from June showed that 23% of southerners would not vote for a Mormon, period.) Remember Mike Huckabee stroked this sentiment a little in 2008 with code words: ‘‘Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?’’

I think this only really applies in the primary; Alabama will not flip to Pres. Obama over the issue. However, if even 7-10%  of faithful Republicans in North Carolinian, Virginia, Florida or Georgian just sit it out, it may make an electoral difference.

I suppose we will have the answer to my question soonAs Perry has sustained major damage over his “heart” for the complexity of illegal immigration, Perry’s campaign rolled this out today attacking Romney on RomneyCare:

Bachmann and Palin (and Santoram) have tag-teamed Perry over his Gardasil flip-flop. The way things look.  Gardasil and Cronyism may dominate the GOP room until the next debate, two weeks away. While I thought Bachmann would bludgeon Perry with the issue, I have not really felt the HPV vaccine mandate would fatally injure Perry; however, it may harm him in a proverbial ” its the little foxes that destroy the whole vineyard” kind of way.

It may have more resonance generally than I originally thought. This TV commercial was prepared by the Democratic Governor’s Association and something like it could work in the South.

According to Politico,

Raymond Glendening, the former DGA political director now at the online organizing startup Ruck.us, recalled that the HPV issue “cut across partisan lines” in Democratic message-testing.
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“We polled and focus grouped this. The focus groups really showed that this hurt Perry among conservatives. It had a libertarian infringement on personal rights feeling to it for them,” Glendening wrote in an email. “They believed he was moving government into a personal family decision. It resonated at the abortion/euthanasia level.”

Or try this unaired one from Republican Kaye Bailey Hutchison.

Romney is loving life: RomneyCare, what’s that? Sarah Palin is salivating; if he continues to slip, I think she’s in.

Ross Douthat analogizes:

As Perry fumbled his way through last night’s Republican primary debate, though, the Texas governor seemed a lot more like Howard Dean in 2004 — a candidate, again, who many Democratic primary voters wanted to support, because he was speaking their language and gleefully throwing insults in the teeth of a president they hated, but also a candidate whose weaknesses were obvious enough that he couldn’t finally make the sale.

One interesting quality that Perry has in common with Dean, and which last night’s various back-and-forths brought out, is the extent to which both his national profile and his personal affect are much more ideological than his actual gubernatorial record. Dean was a center-left and fiscally conservative governor who rebranded himself as the leader of the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” and whose public persona on the campaign trail — as a stridently anti-Iraq War Vermonter who changed churches over a bike path dispute — seemed to embody all the stereotypes associated with blue state liberals. Likewise, Perry is a Texan Gaullist (corporatist, pro-immigration, HPV vaccinating, etc.) who has rebranded himself as an anti-New Deal Tea Partier, and whose heat-packing, convict-executing, treason-accusing persona makes him seem like the perfect embodiment of the current right-wing id.

But whereas Dean wasn’t often attacked from the left during the 2004 race (save over his professed desire to be the candidate of “guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks”), Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are all happy to exploit Perry’s ideological deviations, which left the Texas governor taking fire from the center and the right alike last night. Maybe this will just toughen Perry up and make him a more nimble and formidable general election candidate. But he didn’t look particularly nimble or formidable on the CNN stage; he looked overconfident and ill-prepared.

During the Dean bubble of 2004, National Review ran a famous cover story showing a ranting Dean over the banner: “Please nominate this man.” If I were running a left-wing magazine — The Nation, Mother Jones, Tina Brown’s Newsweek — I would consider recycling that cover line with Perry’s picture over it.

It looks like Perry will be hearing a lot more about his Gardasil issue after last night’s debate and his poor response. As reported by Huffington Post,

Perry responded ably to criticisms of his record on Social Security, which had beset him over the last week. But as he dealt with the controversy over calling the program a “Ponzi scheme,” three more issues opened up, damaging him in the eyes of conservatives.

Most significantly, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) went hard after Perry for his 2007 attempt to mandate vaccinations of sixth-grade girls against the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted disease and a lead cause of cervical cancer. This issue had been raised in last week’s debate. But unlike then, Bachmann pointed out that Perry’s former chief of staff in the governor’s office had been part of the lobbying effort for drug manufacturer Merck, which stood to benefit by administering the vaccine.

That led to a low point for Perry, when he defended himself this way: “The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million, and if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.”

Bachmann shot back: “Well I’m offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn’t have a choice.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) then piled on with righteous indignation, accusing Perry of overseeing “big government run amok.”

. . . To make matters worse for Perry, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin added her voice in support of Bachmann’s to criticize Perry after the debate was over. “That’s crony capitalism,” she said of Perry’s mandate in an appearance on Fox News. “That’s part of the problem that we have in this country is that people are afraid, even in our own party, to call one another out on that. True reform and fighting the corruption and fighting the crony capitalism is a tough thing to do within your own party.”

The reporter believes this episode is “lasting damage” for Perry:

But the HPV issue may be the one that harms Perry the most. Unlike the Social Security issue, where Perry’s iconoclastic comments had endeared him to many portions of the conservative base, the HPV topic will hurt him with the grassroots, especially as it becomes a bigger focus of the campaign in the coming days. What is worse for Perry: the issue alienates both small government conservatives and Republicans who are more conscious of social issues.

As I stated in August, I thought Bachmann would bludgeon hammer Perry with this issue; she may have waited too long to salvage her candidacy. Her performance last night has earned her a new round of television interviews. In a broadcast this morning

Bachmann says in a broadcast interview she will keep hammering away at the Texas governor over an executive order he signed making vaccinations against potentially cancer-causing infections mandatory for young girls. The state legislature overturned Perry’s decision.

I doubt this is fatal but it continues to bolster Mitt Romney’s chances as Tea Partiers and Evangelicals become less enthralled and enthusiastic about Perry’s candidacy.

In my opinion, the issue which harmed him the most was his defense of providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.  Perry was not booed for his position on Gardasil; he was when defending his support for “incentives” for illegal immigration.  I have always thought the immigration baggage was more toxic, more visceral, and ideological than Gardasil.  (See here and here)

Winner: Romney.

UPDATE: Closed-border website V-Dare reports that Perry may have stepped on the “immigration land-mine”:

A friend just called to report that Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio show had a torrent of calls denouncing Rick Perry’s performance on immigration in last night’s debate. Callers said they had not realized how liberal Perry is on the subject, and were particularly irritated that he alone would not support building an effective border fence. Only two callers defended Perry.

One man apparently warned that the MSM was trying “trying to foist Perry on us, just like they did McCain”. He pointed to favorable camera treatment of Perry, while the other speakers generally got portrayed in split screens.

Evidently, Mitt Romney thinks the “Social Security is a Ponzi-scheme “is Perry’s weakness. He has a new handout (direct-mail?) piece that the Obama campaign will be able to photoshop pretty easily.  While Perry has softened his firm position some, I don’t see this being too powerful, within the GOP primary.  Perhaps, in a last-man-standing type strategy, Romney continues to believes that Perry and Bachmann (and Palin?) will destroy themselves and each other before the primaries.

On the other hand, Bachmann sees Perry’s Open-borders position represents the real vulnerability in the primary. She is probably right. (Bachmann cannot say too much about Social Security; she trumped Perry by calling Social Security “one of the biggest frauds ever perpetrated on the American public.“)

Immigration is certainly more toxic when considered by Tea Party sympathizers. Accordingly, a pro-Bachman PAC has just released this ad in South Carolina:

We will see how he explains this “liberal” position.

UPDATE: New CNN poll shows no impact of Perry’s statements about Social Security.

Mitt Romney is about to test the Tea Party’s resolve on illegal immigration:

Mitt Romney starts to make the contrast with Rick Perry over immigration, an area where the Texas governor’s critics see an opening, in his remarks at the National Hispanic Assembly in Florida this morning.
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Romney urged “completing construction of a high-tech fence,” and pointed to another key issue: “Finally, we must stop providing the incentives that promote illegal immigration. As governor, I vetoed legislation that would have provided in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants.”

While he never mentioned Perry, the comment was designed to highlight the Texas bill, signed by Perry, permitting in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants.

Will the Tea Parties stomach Rick Perry’s open-borders stance? Or will they treat him “pretty ugly?”