AUSTIN — A precipitous drop in tea party support is contributing to Gov. Rick Perry's plunge in the polls, undercutting expectations that he would amass a hefty following from the conservative grassroots movement.
The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Perry, the former GOP front-runner, tied for second with Atlanta businessman Herman Cain at 16 percent, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney atop the Republican field with 25 percent. Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., released a three-state survey that described a "collapse" in Perry's overall support in North Carolina, Nebraska and West Virginia.
Perry's supporters, as well as independent analysts, point out that the Republican nomination battle remains unpredictable, saying that Perry, who has never lost an election, still has plenty of time to turn things around.
Perry fund-raisers, eager to portray a campaign on the move, are reportedly preparing to announce quarterly donation totals that exceed expectations. Politico, quoting a source, placed the figure at $15 million -- above the campaign's minimum goal of $10 million -- but Perry campaign officials declined to confirm the figures.
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President Barack Obama stayed away from direct attacks on the Republican governor Tuesday during an appearance in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite, but Ron Kirk, the president's trade ambassador and Dallas' first black mayor, suggested to reporters that Perry's presidential bid is running aground.
"Too often the brightest stars are comets. But they flame out the fastest because they consume themselves on their own energy," Kirk told reporters on Air Force One. "I think there are some lessons to be learned there in life and in politics. How quickly and how brightly we burn."
The Washington Post reported that the fall-off for Perry against other candidates has been "particularly steep" among voters aligned with the Tea Party movement. In early September, according to the Post-ABC poll, Perry had a 3-to-1 advantage over other candidates among those "strongly" backing the Tea Party. But the latest survey, released Monday night, said Perry's support in that group had dropped from 45 percent to 10 percent, the Post said.
Overall, according to the poll, Perry has sustained a 13-point descent over the past month, while Cain has risen 12 points, apparently capturing a share of Perry's tea party support. Perry's decline has enabled Romney to regain front-runner status.
But Sal Russo, co-founder of the Tea Party Express, which jointly sponsored a Republican presidential debate with CNN last month, said it's too early to write Perry off.