Spotlight could be hot for Gov. Perry
Rick Perry has managed to grab the national media spotlight. In a very short time following his official declaration of candidacy Aug. 13, the Texas governor rocketed to the top of the polls in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. It’s been an interesting phenomenon.
The upside of the huge attention for Texas’ longest-serving governor is that he and his candidacy are getting an enormous amount of publicity. The downside is that he’s going to get some of the inspection and direct questioning that he’s side-stepped in his 2010 re-election campaign, by ducking meeting with newspaper editorial boards and other Texas media.
With an upcoming series of debates among the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Perry on a national stage will face inquiries from other candidates seeking the same goal he is. Very likely, subjects for discussion will include criticism and probably attacks for some of the things Perry’s said and done over the past few days, and during his 10-plus years as governor.
In the short time Perry’s been out there on the national stage as a declared candidate, he’s already raised eyebrows by, among other things, suggesting that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke working to increase the nation’s money supply would border on “treasonous” behavior.
Or initially saying that states’ rights under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are so sacrosanct that the idea of New York approving gay marriage is “fine with me.”
After some anti-gay leaders criticized his comment, he reiterated that he is against gay marriage. And on Aug. 26, he signed a pledge that if he is elected president, he would submit a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage – even though congress, not the president, has the official role of sending constitutional amendment proposals to the states for ratification.
With his grab for attention and support, Perry also set himself up for questions about how much raising funds for his political activities overlaps with his grants of taxpayer money to companies run by people who just happen to be contributors.
That question was explored recently in the New York Times, complete with a diagram showing such connections.
And the Washington Post recently did a long story about Perry’s heavy-handed involvement with Texas’ public universities’ priorities – including demanding that professors pay more attention to teaching than research. During his 2010 re-election run, Team Perry was criticized for demanding resignations of some regents he’d appointed who endorsed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in her GOP primary challenge to Perry.
Since the governor has underlined job creation as his signature achievement, the fact Texas’ unemployment rate has risen to 8.4 percent – the highest in 27 years -- contrasted to a national rate of 9.1 percent makes that claim weaker than he’d probably like .
And then, of course, there are the rumors. Some are fed by an Austin libertarian-leaning Republican and Ron Paul backer, Robert Morrow, who delights in controversy, conspiracy theories and suspicion of scandals.
Morrow’s latest shtick is questioning Perry’s sexual morality and whether the governor has stuck to a monogamous relationship with his wife Anita. Morrow took out a full-page ad recently in the alternative weekly, the Austin Chronicle, asking anyone who’d had sex with Perry to get in touch.
The Perry campaign, not unexpectedly, says it’s all nutty and obscene allegations, with no smidgeon of proof whatsoever. But President Obama’s birth in Hawaii and religion were questioned during his 2008 presidential run and since. John McCain, during his 2000 GOP presidential primary faceoff with George W. Bush, was victimized by a whisper campaign in South Carolina that a black child he and his wife had adopted was actually his own. Nasty rumors seems to accompany the high-stakes process of presidential campaigns.
While Perry has demonstrated repeatedly that his political skin is relatively thick, and that he lets criticism roll off him, he’s now being introduced to the country. And while he courts the right-leaning Republicans – which, with the Tea Party’s efforts, have swelled the ranks of that wing – Democrats and Independents will also be paying increasing attention.
Democratic President Obama has some of his lowest approval ratings of his presidency. Perry and his advisers are counting on that to carry out the strategy that they’ve repeatedly used successfully in Texas: win the Republican primary, and the general election result is a foregone conclusion.
We’ll see whether that will work for Team Perry in a national election, and whether his self-confidence, hot words and large Texas swagger indeed hold broad nationwide appeal.
Contact McNeely at email@example.com or (512) 458- 2963.