Jeff Miller likely will be one of many political consultants who are anxiously biting their fingernails while they watch Tuesday's Republican debate. Broadcast live beginning at 5 p.m. PST on CNN, the debate between Republican presidential candidates is sponsored by CNN, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
Miller, who grew up in Tehachapi and is Texas Gov. Rick Perry's California campaign chairman, contends major-donor support in the state remains strong for Perry, despite the candidate's disappointing earlier debate performances. After Perry's Nov. 9 "brain freeze" during a televised debate in Detroit, Miller told The San Francisco Chronicle:
"I was nervous, thinking: 'How are our major supporters going to react?' ... I've been on the phone with every one of our major bundlers and finance chairs. And they're still on board, 100 percent. ... All of them are saying, 'We know Gov. Perry. We know he's a smart guy and we know what he's done in Texas. ... Do we want to elect someone who's a good debater and who has no core? Or do we want someone who's a great leader, who's sharp on policy?' So we have to dig in and do what we're doing."
Three days after the Detroit debate, Miller was breathing easier as the performances of Perry and the other Republican presidential candidates were relatively gaffe-free during a televised debate in South Carolina.
Tuesday's debate in Washington, D.C., which will focus on national security issues, is another "white-knuckle test" of the candidates, just weeks ahead of the party's first voter caucus in Iowa. In recent days, polls testing voter support in various early caucus and primary states have demonstrated just how volatile the race is.
Some placed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the lead, with others showing him running neck-and-neck with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has consistently held onto front-runner status by the skin of his teeth. Despite sexual harassment allegations and policy flubs, former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain remained in the top tier, as did Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Trailing with single-digit approval ratings were Rick Perry, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
But the cards in this Republican pack are being shuffled on almost a daily basis. As we head into the primaries, money, more than strong debate performances, likely will have the most impact on a candidate's approval rating. And Perry's got money -- more than $17 million in his political war chest.
You can read Miller's daily tweets about the Perry campaign, including during Tuesday's debate, on Twitter (@JeffMiller).