ORLANDO -- Al Cardenas, a veteran Republican official who chairs the group hosting the massive conservative conference here Friday, said Texas Gov. Rick Perry has demonstrated he has "strikeout potential" with his multiple gaffes in his first three debates as a presidential candidate. Still, he said Perry is down, but not out.
"Clearly the stuff on Social Security and some of the other issues ... showed that there's a strikeout potential there," Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "But it takes three outs to get somebody out of the inning, and I don't believe any of these items on their own are a knockout punch."
"But the truth of the matter is, you've got to stop getting into trouble. He's got to get himself out of these issues," said Cardenas, who is a past chairman of the Florida GOP. "And I think time helps you do that."
Cardenas said one of the biggest differences between Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- who most observers agree has out-maneuvered Perry in all three debates in which the Texan has participated -- is that Romney has run for president before.
"Romney's been vulnerable on some issues but he's been at this so much longer that he's been able to weather those storms," Cardenas said. "I'm predicting that Rick Perry -- as clumsy as it is now to deal with Social Security, immigration and couple of these other health issues -- that as time goes on, he'll weather the storm and continue to be a formidable candidate."
Cardenas conceded there is not a lot of time for Perry to do so, with only a few months until the first primary states caucus and go to the polls. Iowa, which goes first, and South Carolina, which goes third, are of particular importance for Perry, and will likely set up a battle for Florida, which is intent on going fifth, though the GOP primary calendar is still being worked out among the states.
"If he falters in either of those states," Cardenas said of Iowa and South Carolina, "he'll be in trouble."
Cardenas's group is hosting the Conservative Political Action Conference Committee Florida meeting. It's the first time they've done a regional version of the annual national meeting. CPAC was started in 1973 and has become a massive gathering of conservatives in Washington, D.C.
Cardenas said that while many Republicans agree with Perry that Social Security needs to be reformed, the Texan's rhetoric about the program being a "Ponzi scheme" was ill-advised.
"When you call Social Security a Ponzi scheme, that tends to get some folks concerned. I think the electorate in a Republican primary is open to reform ideas ... but they're not willing to see us do away with it or to consider it in danger," he said. "So when you use wording that may put it in an endangered category in the minds of a listener, that's when you gotta explain yourself a little better."
Video by Sara Kenigsberg.