As word surfaced Aug. 8, 2011, that Rick Perry was poised to join the 2012 race for president, fellow Republican Mitt Romney made what the New York Times called a veiled reference to Perry’s home-state appeal.
"You know there was a poll, I guess it was about a month ago, that was a little surprising," the newspaper quoted the former Massachusetts governor saying during a New Hampshire campaign stop. "It had me as the only Republican candidate who in Texas could beat President Obama. I think I was ahead by eight points. No one else was ahead of him."
Romney the only GOP presidential powerhouse in the Lone Star state?
An online search led us to the results of a poll taken in late June by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, which works with Democrats. The poll of 795 Texas voters, taken June 25-27, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Forty-four percent of the respondents identified themselves as Republicans, 35 percent as Democrats, 21 percent as Independents.
And according to the poll, 50 percent of respondents favored Romney over Obama, who was backed by 42 percent -- indeed an eight-point edge. Summarizing, the pollster said Obama "performs weakest" against Romney.
Contrary to Romney’s August recap, though, other Republicans also outperformed Obama.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, led Obama by 45 percent to 40 percent; U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann led Obama by 47 percent to 44 percent and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty narrowly bested Obama by 44 percent to 43 percent.
According to the poll, Obama was tied with Republican Herman Cain, at 43 percent, and led Sarah Palin by 46 percent to 44 percent. Perry, who had recently acknowledged he would weigh a bid for president, trailed Obama 47 percent to 45 percent.
In a press release accompanying the poll results, the polling firm said Bachmann was the most popular Republican contender in her own right and the only one in positive territory with a 39 percent to 36 percent favorable/unfavorable rating.
Romney was viewed unfavorably by 43 percent of respondents, favorably by 37 percent. Perry, governor since late 2000, was approved by 43 percent of respondents but disapproved of by 52 percent -- though 52 percent of Republican respondents wanted him to run for president.
Some 85 percent of respondents who voted for Republican nominee John McCain in 2008 preferred Romney to Obama; 78 percent preferred Perry to Obama.
In an interview, the polling firm’s director, Tom Jennings, credited Romney with accurately reflecting his lead over Obama in the poll and that he fared better than other Republicans.
While three other Republicans likewise bested Obama in the poll’s one-on-one hypothetical matchups, Jennings said, Romney was the sole Republican whose lead outpaced its margin of error. "He could argue he was the only one ahead outside the margin of error," Jennings said.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams echoed Jennings’ point about Romney being the only Republican whose lead over Obama in the June poll exceeds the poll’s margin of error. Williams said too that Romney, responding to a town-hall question about his appeal in the South, meant to point out he was the strongest Republican--not necessarily the only potentially winning Republican--against Obama, according to the poll.
Finally, we came up empty on other polls matching Obama against individual Republican aspirants in Texas.
However, a poll taken May 24-31 for the non-partisan Texas Lyceum, a statewide leadership group, gauged favorable/unfavorable ratings of candidates. Among the survey’s likely voters, 22 percent of 147 respondents planning to vote in the 2012 Republican presidential primary said they had not thought enough about the race to make a choice. Of those who had a preference, Romney was favored by 16 percent, Palin by 14 percent, Paul by 10 percent, Perry by 9 percent, Cain by 8 percent and Pawlenty by 7 percent. The margin of error on these choices was plus or minus 8 percentage points, "indicating that there is no clear favorite," the group said.
Another poll, taken May 11-18 by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, showed 12 percent of polled Republicans preferring Palin for president, 7 percent for Romney, 10 percent for Paul and 4 percent for Perry. Some 14 percent said they did not know who they would vote for if the presidential primary were held then.
More significantly eight months out from the Texas primary, the UT poll’s results reaffirmed the state’s Republican lean. Asked how they'd vote in a general election for president, 30 percent of polled voters said they would vote to re-elect Obama, while 48 percent said they’d vote for the Republican nominee, whoever it is. Jim Henson, the poll’s director, told us in an interview that barring unforeseen circumstances, any Republican is likely to best Obama in Texas.
In the June poll, all told, Romney performed better in Texas than other Republicans against Obama, but contrary to his statement, he was not the only Republican to best him. He was the only candidate who did so by more than the poll's margin of error.
But Romney is hardly the only Republican who could win the state. No Democratic presidential nominee has carried Texas since 1976.
We rate his statement Half True.