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Is Rick Perry still a top-tier presidential candidate?

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Jim Cole/AP

(Read caption) In this photo, Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry tapes a radio show, Friday, in Concord, N.H.

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Is Rick Perry still a top-tier presidential candidate?

For the most part, the media keep treating the Texas governor as though he is, often considering him the most viable candidate other than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to get the GOP nomination. Despite the recent dominance of businessman Herman Cain in the polls (which could change with the recent sexual harassment allegations), that candidate is still largely characterized by political writers as a flash in the pan.

Governor Perry certainly has the money – he raised $17.2 million in the third quarter, according to his campaign reports, outpacing all other Republican candidates – and the organization. Aside from Mr. Romney, no other candidate passed the $10 million mark.

So why can't he make headway in the polls? Forget states like Iowa and New Hampshire, as important as they are in the nominating process: Perry is struggling even in the state he governs.

A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll has Perry statistically tied with Mr. Cain among Republican primary voters in Texas. Cain got 27 percent to Perry's 26 percent in the poll. Both men were well ahead of other candidates: Ron Paul with 12 percent, Romney with 9 percent, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich with 8 percent.

But the question remains: What is it about Perry that has even his own electorate hesitating? Is it all about his much-derided debate performances? Or some of the other gaffes and missteps that have characterized his campaign? You certainly don't hear him talking about Social Security as a Ponzi scheme anymore, or essentially characterizing US Fed chief Ben Bernanke as "treasonous."

Outside Texas, Perry is struggling even more. The most recent Real Clear Politics national polling average has him at 10.5 percent, well behind Cain and Romney (both at about 25 percent). And the most recent Iowa poll, conducted by The Des Moines Register, has him even further behind, at 7 percent. He is tied with Mr. Gingrich there for fifth place.

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It's been largely a steep decline for Perry since August and early September, right after he announced his campaign, when he dominated polls and had most pundits convinced he was the man to beat. His polling trends and Cain's have been virtually opposite since that time.

Of course, polling isn't everything, especially this early in the race. (Remember Rudolph Giuliani's brief dominance of the Republican field in '07?) And plenty of knowledgeable pollsters and pundits are treating Cain's recent numbers as outliers, given some weak fundamentals (including unknown campaign staff and almost no history of running for elected office).

But the Iowa caucuses are getting closer, and at some point, Perry needs to show that he can get the votes to match his organization and fundraising. The biggest thing that seems to be benefiting him is the perceived need for a GOP candidate with stronger conservative credentials than Romney's.

Cain has most pundits wondering when he's going to fall – if not from the harassment allegations recently dredged up, then from a lack of funds or experience or organization. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann has slowly fizzled – and has, if possible, performed even worse in the debates than Perry. Mr. Paul certainly has a loyal following, especially among Libertarian-leaning Republicans, but he's hardly going to take over the true-conservative mantle, and it seems unlikely that his numbers will grow.

That leaves: Gingrich? Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum? Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman? Of those, only Gingrich seems like a possibility.

Perry is doing his best to convince voters that he's a top candidate as well. On Monday, he released his second Iowa ad. Like the one he released last week (which focused on job creation), it features Perry speaking against a white backdrop, talking directly to viewers as classical music plays, and it emphasizes his record as governor. It also directly addresses his lackluster debate performance and the fact that he doesn't shine in interviews or in front of the camera.

"If you're looking for a slick politician or a guy with great teleprompter skills, we already have that, and he's destroying our economy," Perry says in the ad. "I'm a doer, not a talker."

Iowa Republicans will get to weigh in on whether they're convinced in just two months.

QUIZ: How well do you know Rick Perry?

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