Houston, we have a problem.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say Austin, otherwise known as the stomping grounds of Rick Perry, the Texas governor and supposed GOP presidential frontrunner.

After showcasing uneven skills in recent Republican debates in California and South Carolina, Perry got knocked for a loop in Florida. On Saturday, Republicans in the electoral-vote-rich Sunshine State picked Herman Cain, an ex-pizza company CEO with no political experience, over Perry in their straw poll. Not only did Cain win, he won big, receiving almost twice the votes of second-place Perry.

One can almost hear the big, collective groan sigh of Republican leaders around the country. Hmmm. The former head of a pizza company (and we’re not talking Dominos) vs. the seasoned, savvy, and oh-so-very-charismatic Barack Obama.

Blank stare.

Well, if Republicans have a presidential problem, it is born of the insular politics honed by the Tea-Party-led GOP.

Perry, an evangelical Protestant, gun-toting, Southern, white male, was supposed to light a fire under a base that was somewhat underwhelmed about former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney.

But then it turned out Perry lets the kids of undocumented immigrants get Texas state funds to go to college (horrors!). And he actually thinks big, bad government should play a role in inoculating people against disease. He says he would do it differently if he had the chance, but he did advocate that girls as young as 12 be vaccinated against the virus that causes cervical cancer. (Kind of like the government’s efforts during the 1950s with the polio vaccine. Don’t say it. I know. SO retro.)

On paper, Romney should probably be a shoe-in for the nomination: successful businessman, former governor, conservatively moderate. Maybe he will get there. But the elephant in the room: He’s a Mormon. Not a favored denomination by the staunch “traditional” Protestants that are the face of the Tea Party GOP. In a recent Gallup poll, a fifth of respondents said they would not vote for a Mormon if he were the nominee of their party.

Michele Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota, is a staunch conservative and a darling of the Tea Party. But no matter how loud the applause, conservatives seem to love their women as cheerleaders, not leaders of the free world. Ask Sarah Palin.  A Rasmussen poll found respondents indicating that while they would be willing to vote for a woman as president, they don’t think a woman will become president for at least another decade.

And let’s not even talk about the second string among the GOP presidential hopefuls.

Perhaps more importantly let’s not count Obama out as a one-term president.

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