Poll: Rick Perry leads Republican race

AUSTIN — Texas Gov. Rick Perry emerged as the Republican front-runner for president in a major national poll Wednesday as he prepared to embark on a multi-city fundraising tour in his home state next week.

Perry was favored by 29 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in the latest Gallup poll, compared with 17 percent for former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson was third with 13 percent, and Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota came in fourth with 10 percent.

Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, entered the race for the Republican nomination on Aug. 13 and immediately went on a weeklong campaign trip through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina before returning to Texas to shift into fundraising mode.

Before becoming a candidate, Perry and his campaign team reached out to major donors across the country to make sure that he could go the distance in a campaign that will easily cost in excess of $100 million. Next week, he will headline $2,500-a-person events in six Texas cities.

In Fort Worth, Perry will appear at noon Tuesday at the downtown City Club. Wealthy philanthropists Lee and Ramona Bass and John and Anne Marion are hosts for the event, which is expected to draw an impressive array of the city's Republican elite.

"There will be a lot of people there to see the governor," said former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, a congressional candidate and one of several co-hosts. "It's important that we raise the money, but it's [also] important that we show the support for him and let him get his message out."

Perry will also venture into Oklahoma and New Orleans, according to The Dallas Morning News.

"I think he's on track to raise as much money as possible," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is part of a network of so-called bundlers who are using their contacts and fundraising skills to help raise large numbers of individual contributions that can't exceed $2,500 per person. Abbott said his goal was to raise $100,000 to $250,000.

In his three election campaigns for governor, Perry raised a total of $102 million under a state campaign finance system that permits unlimited individual contributions. The dynamics are different in the presidential race because of the federal limits on per-person contributions, making the use of bundlers a common practice.

Houston oilman George Strake, a former chairman of the Texas Republican Party, said Perry's home-state fundraising efforts began intensifying in recent weeks with e-mail appeals for help raising money.

"I know they're pretty well-organized," said Strake, who said he promised to try to raise $25,000 and would shoot for $50,000.

A Houston fundraiser is scheduled for Wednesday at the Hilton Americas. Couples who raise $50,000 have been designated as sponsors, Strake said. Couples who raise $25,000 are hosts.

Abbott said he volunteered to help "as soon as I learned" that Perry was considering a run for president.

"I told a lot of folks I wanted to help out any way I can," Abbott said. He said he has "started making phone calls and sending out e-mails" to raise money on Perry's behalf.

The Gallup poll, which was conducted Aug. 17 through Sunday, suggested that Perry gained momentum through his first week of campaigning. A number of polls just before his entry into the race placed him in the upper tier of candidates, although Romney had generally been perceived as the front-runner. Bachmann has also ranked among the top contenders after winning a Republican straw poll in Iowa.

"Perry's official entry has shaken up the Republican race, making him the new leader for the party's nomination," Gallup officials reported. "Gallup also finds Perry generating strong positive intensity among Republicans familiar with him, suggesting he has a strong initial base with potential to grow, given his below-average recognition."

But the poll also noted that Perry, like Romney before him, "rates as a weaker front-runner than those in prior GOP nomination contests" and said Perry will be challenged to "avoid the same fates" as late-entering candidates who ultimately fizzled, such as Republican Fred Thompson in 2008 and Democrat Wesley Clark in 2004.

Perry runs well among older Republicans and Southerners and has "above average" support among religious Republicans. Conservatives "strongly favor" Perry over Romney, but liberals and moderate Republicans support them about equally, the poll said.