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.”
Gov. Perry, a latecomer 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.
In one debate, for instance, Perry offered this clear-as-mud statement about 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?
“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, his wife blamed it on people attacking him because of his devout religious beliefs.
“So much of that is, I think they look at him, because of his faith,” she said. “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.”
Perry was introduced at a religious summit by Robert Jeffress, head of Dallas’ First Baptist Church, warmly endorsing Perry as a strong Christian. After the speech, Jeffress told reporters that top evangelical leaders agree that 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 only that he can’t control what his supporters say.
But Texas Perry-watchers are warning pundits around the country not to count him out. The debates in which he stumbled so glaringly probably will fade after a while. Then, in the grind of early primaries, Perry will have a formidable amount of money to spend. Meanwhile, other candidates except Romney and Ron Paul are limping financially.
If the past is a guide, Perry’s campaign will feature TV ads blasting front-runner Romney and others if necessary. And while Perry is a very good person-to-person campaigner, he has also has been consistently lucky.
He became a statewide official by challenging Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower in 1990. Perry’s TV ads showed Hightower in 1988 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, his name recognition was high enough to back down other potential candidates. In the general election, even with enormous coat-tail help from Gov. George W. Bush, Perry nosed out John Sharp by less than 2 percent.
After becoming governor, Perry won election in his own right in 2002, the first election after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Republicans everywhere swept to victory.
In 2006, Perry was re-elected with just over 39 percent of the vote, with a Democrat, two independents, and a Libertarian splitting the rest. And in 2010 he cruised to another term by riding the anti-Barack Obama wave and ducking potentially embarrassing editorial board interviews and most debates.
Now, in 2012, Perry’s windfall is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, essentially allowing super-PACs to raise and spend unlimited money from undisclosed sources on TV ads, so long as they do not coordinate with a candidate’s campaign.
This means Perry’s deep-pocket donors, who have hit the limit on regular campaign contributions, can funnel as much more as they want — including corporate contributions — through the super-PACs. Don’t be surprised if the pro-Perry super-PACs run TV ads using the same type of “Swift-Boating” attack against Romney that was employed against U.S. Sen. John Kerry when he was the Democratic nominee in 2004.
So quit crying, Anita. It’s not over yet.
Veteran Texas political writer Dave McNeely can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.