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McNeely: Don't count Perry out

By Dave McNeely
Oct. 19, 2011 at 11 p.m.

Well, how about that? Anita Perry was complaining recently in South Carolina that the other Republican presidential hopefuls are picking on her husband.

"It's been a rough month," Texas' First Lady said tearfully. "We have been brutalized and beaten up and chewed up in the press to where I need this today."

Gov. Perry, a late-comer who blew into the GOP race in mid-August and rose immediately to top the polls, dropped like a rock after poor performances in the first four debates. For instance, in one, Perry said of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney:

"I think Americans just don't know sometimes which Mitt Romney they're dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment?" Perry asked rhetorically.

"Was it before he was before the social programs from the standpoint of he was for standing up for Roe v. Wade before he was against Roe v. Wade - he was for Race to the Top - he's for Obamacare and now he's against it. I mean we'll wait until tomorrow and see which Mitt Romney we're really talking to tonight."

As the bloom rapidly faded from Perry's Rose, Mrs. Perry blamed it on people attacking the governor because of his devout religious beliefs.

"We are being brutalized by our opponents, and our own party," she said. "So much of that is, I think they look at him, because of his faith. He is the only true conservative - well, there are some conservatives. And they're there for good reasons. And they may feel like God called them too. But I truly feel like we are here for that purpose."

Mrs. Perry said God told her her husband should run - before He got around to telling the governor.

Perry was introduced at a religious summit by Robert Jeffress, head of Dallas' First Baptist Church, strongly endorsing Perry as a strong Christian. After the speech, Jeffress told reporters that top evangelical leaders agree the Mormon religion amounts to a "cult."

Perry, asked if he agreed with that assessment, responded with a curt "No." But he has yet to further distance himself from the Jeffress remark, saying just because someone supports him doesn't mean he can control what they say.

Texas Perry-watchers are warning pundits around the country not to count him out.

First, the debates that have showcased his stumbling performance probably will play out after awhile. Then it will come down to the grind in some of the early primary states, and Perry has raised a formidable amount of money. Meanwhile, other candidates except Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are limping financially.

Second, if the past in Texas is a guide, Perry's campaign will feature TV ads blasting front-runner Romney and others .

Third, while Perry is a very good person-to-person campaigner, he has also enjoyed some lucky breaks.

He became a statewide official by challenging Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower in 1990, when other Republicans were making political gains.

Perry's campaign TV ads then featured clips of Hightower in 1988 clasping hands with and endorsing black presidential candidate Jesse Jackson. (The Texas Tribune this week recalled criticism of that ad as a thinly veiled racist appeal, which the Perry campaign denies.)

When Perry ran for the open lieutenant governor's job in 1998, he was well-enough known that he backed down other potential candidates, including multi-millionaire David Dew-hurst, who settled for the open job as land commissioner.

Perry barely beat Democratic Comptroller John Sharp in November, with enormous coattail help from Gov. George W. Bush. Bush won re-election with 68.2 percent of the vote; Perry's vote total for lieutenant governor was 691,894 less than Bush's for governor. Perry nosed out Sharp by less than 2 percent.

After becoming governor, Perry's 2002 election in his own right was the first election after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Republicans everywhere swept to victory - including Perry.

In 2006, Perry was re-elected with just more than 39 percent of the vote, as a Democrat, two independents and a Libertarian split the rest.

In 2010, riding the anti-Barack Obama wave and ducking potentially embarrassing editorial board interviews and most debates, Perry cruised to re-election again.

And now, in 2012, Perry's windfall is the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that essentially allows Super PACs to raise and spend unlimited money from undisclosed sources on TV ads to say whatever they want, so long as they do not coordinate with the candidate's campaign.

This means Perry's deep-pocket donors, who have hit the limit on regular campaign contributions, can run as much more as they want - including corporate contributions - through the Super PACs.

Lobbyists Mike Toomey, Perry's former chief of staff, and Dan Shelley, another another former legislator, have each formed such outlier PACs to raise millions to support Perry.

Don't be surprised if the pro-Perry Super PACs run TV ads raising questions about Romney's Mormonism, using the same type of "Swift-Boating" attack used against U.S. Sen. John Kerry when he was the Democratic nominee in 2004.

So quit crying, Anita. It's not over yet.

<em>- Dave McNeely is an Austin-based columnist covering Texas politics.</em>



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