CHICAGO (Reuters) - White House hopeful Rick Perry has at least some supporters in the Democratic stronghold of Chicago -- President Barack Obama's re-election team.
The Texas governor, a social and fiscal conservative, is seen by Obama's top election campaigners and fundraisers as easier to beat than the more moderate Mitt Romney in the presidential election.
"I was praying Perry would get in the race," said a former White House aide closely linked to Obama's campaign.
While Obama's campaign headquarters in Chicago will not talk on the record about possible election rivals, fundraisers, senior activists and influential Chicagoans close to the president say Perry's more polarizing views make him a bigger target for the Democrat in a general election.
Perry has quickly leaped into second place in polls of Republicans since announcing his candidacy last weekend. But he caused a fuss with harsh criticism of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that was shunned even by some Republicans.
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, tops the Republican field in polls and in the fundraising race.
"I think the Romney campaign is very scared of Perry. But I think the Obama campaign would rather run against Perry than Romney," said John Avlon, a centrist columnist for Newsweek.
Obama's approval rating has dropped as the unemployment rate remains stuck above 9 percent and his re-election prospects are dimmer than they were just a few months ago.
But the harder a Republican candidate leans to the right the easier it will be for the Democratic president to beat him or her in a general election, several Obama campaigners said.
Romney moved on Wednesday to widen his appeal to conservatives by saying he was "in sync" with the Tea Party, comments that Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt tweeted to supporters.
Michele Bachmann, a senior Tea Party figure, is the Republican contender the Obama campaigners would most like to take on in 2012, although she seems unlikely to win the nomination, according to several sources close to the Obama campaign.
Bachmann surprised many this week by promising that if she won the White House, she would bring gas prices down to $2 a gallon, despite those prices being set on the global market, not by the president of the United States.
She is one of the Republicans in Congress most vocal about government spending cuts and deficit reduction, and she voted against a recent debt-limit deal that averted an unprecedented U.S. default.
Sources close to the Obama campaign say that makes her an easy target in the race.
"The (Republican candidates') full attack on government ignores all of the important services that people rightfully expect from their government" and when candidates embrace extreme austerity measures "it looks easier to run against them," said a source involved with Obama's re-election bid.
Obama entered the electoral fray this week with a campaign-style bus trip through the Midwest, including Iowa, where Bachmann just won an influential poll that serves as an early test of candidates. Perry and Romney did not participate.
The president avoided appraising the Republican frontrunners he may face in the general election.
"You know, I haven't been giving it too much thought," Obama said in Iowa on Tuesday. "I figure that I'll let them winnow it down a little bit. When they decide who they want their standard bearer to be, then I'll be ready for them."
A moderate candidate like former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, whom Obama appointed as ambassador to China, would be harder to fight for the Obama campaign but he has very little chance of winning the Republican nomination.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman