Texas Governor Rick Perry’s flirtation with the Republican presidential nomination edged closer to becoming a serious affair as key figures in his past campaigns quit working for Newt Gingrich.
Dave Carney, a longtime Perry adviser, and Rob Johnson, a former political aide to the Republican, both abandoned Gingrich’s presidential bid yesterday. Their departures drew more attention to the possibility that the longest-serving U.S. governor could make a run for the nation’s top office.
“Perry would be hard-pressed to get serious about a campaign without his trusted team in place,” said Harold Cook, an Austin political consultant who works for Democrats. “Carney and Johnson are very good, they are very loyal to Perry and now they don’t have a date to the prom.”
Johnson, who resigned as Gingrich’s campaign manager, ran the governor’s re-election effort last year. Carney began advising Perry, 61, in 1998. Last year, Perry beat U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in the primary and former Houston Mayor Bill White in the general election. The Texas governor said May 27 he was “thinking about” a presidential bid, after denying any interest in his party’s nomination for months.
“People in Austin close to Perry are saying that he’s being drawn into this because the Republican field is so weak,” said Jeff Crosby, an Austin political consultant to Democrats. The upheaval in the Gingrich camp will spark “a ripple of chatter about Perry for people who think there’s some meat on the bone.”
Unrelated to Perry
Carney, a former White House political aide to President George H.W. Bush, denied that his departure from the Gingrich campaign was related to a possible Perry bid. The governor’s deliberations didn’t affect his decision “in the least,” Carney said by e-mail.
“The professional team came to the realization that the direction of the campaign they sought and Newt’s vision for the campaign were incompatible,” Carney said in the e-mail to Bloomberg News.
Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, gained prominence by leading a 1994 Republican surge to wrest control of the chamber from Democrats for the first time in 40 years. He declared his candidacy last month.
Perry has raised his national profile in the past two weeks by scheduling speeches to Republicans in New Orleans and New York, and inviting governors to a prayer day Aug. 6 in Houston.
The resignations by Carney and Johnson “don’t change anything,” Mark Miner, a spokesman for the governor, said yesterday in a telephone interview. He said Perry began considering a prayer meeting in December.
“The governor has said he is thinking about running, but his current focus is on the special legislative session,” Miner said. He said Perry hasn’t taken any steps toward a campaign.
“Whether he runs or not, every day that passes there seems to be a greater opportunity for him,” said Allen Blakemore, a Houston political consultant to Republicans who hasn’t worked for Perry. “Nobody in the presidential race right now is catching fire.”
Perry will “get in this race,” Mark McKinnon, a political consultant who once worked for former President George W. Bush, said in a June 5 appearance on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” show. A vacuum exists in the Republican field, said McKinnon, vice chairman of Austin-based Public Strategies Inc. He served as a campaign strategist to Bush in 2000 and 2004.
The Republican presidential field is taking shape two months before the mid-August Iowa Straw Poll, a carnival-like political event sponsored by the state party that tests the organizational prowess of campaigns.
Besides Gingrich, several former governors including Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty and Massachusetts’s Mitt Romney, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas have joined the race, as have Herman Cain, a former chief executive officer of Godfather’s Pizza Inc., and Gary Johnson, once New Mexico’s governor.
Other potential candidates include Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee; Jon Huntsman Jr., a former Utah governor, and U.S. Representative Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota.
None of the candidates has won strong support, said John Feehery, a Republican strategist in Washington. Surveys released this week showed no more than 25 percent back any of those running or potential candidates, according to PollingReport.com. Perry wasn’t included in the surveys.
“He’s pretty opportunistic and he is looking at a pretty large unclaimed territory in the Republican electorate,” Feehery said of Perry. “The vast unclaimed part of the Republican Party is the social, hard-core conservatives. There really isn’t a candidate out there who appeals to them and is credible.”
The Texas governor has the best story to tell because of job growth in his state and his devotion to principles such as shrinking government, Blakemore said. More than 254,000 workers were added to the employment rolls in his state in the past year, the most in the U.S., according to the Labor Department.
“Perry is a relentless, hardworking campaigner and everyone else in the race will have to step up their games if he does enter,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Empower Texans, an Austin-based group that promotes limited government.
Not all Republicans in Texas back a Perry presidential bid, however.
Not a Winner
“I have yet to find one Republican who wants Perry to run,” said David Jaderlund, a bond trader and salesman for Dallas-based investment adviser Hempstead Group LLC. Those party members he talks to “think he would be staunchly trounced,” Jaderlund said. “He wouldn’t make it past the first primary.”
Many Republicans outside Texas and general-election voters may view Perry as too conservative based on issues including his immigration position and his education spending cuts, said Cook, the Austin political consultant to Democrats.
“Rick Perry on first glance has a great story to tell, but when you dive deeper into the story, you don’t see much magic there,” Cook said.
Perry’s positions on fiscal and social issues would appeal to a segment of Republican primary voters, said George Edwards, presidential scholar at Texas A&M University in College Station. “He really is a strong right-wing ideologue,” he said.
Even so, Pawlenty and Bachmann also hold a similar appeal for those voters, Edwards said. And if he were nominated, Perry would lose the general election, he said.
Can’t Beat Obama
“When push comes to shove, he wouldn’t succeed” against President Barack Obama, Edwards said. “It would be too easy to characterize Rick Perry as extreme.”
If he decides to run, Perry would have a lot of work to do to catch up to the other candidates who have been preparing for a year, hiring aides, raising money and building grassroots support in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist in Washington.
“The process of running for president is so brutal, the investment that is required is so great, I don’t think it is a process that you can back into or get drafted into,” said Madden, a former Romney spokesman who still backs the candidate. “Still, people are still open for more options.”
Perry would need to decide soon whether to participate in the Iowa event in August. Doing so would require an investment of time and money in short order.
By flirting with a possible run for president now, Perry could set himself up to be the party’s vice presidential nominee next year or to run in 2016, said Cal Jillson, who teaches politics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It also could strengthen his position as governor.
“The fact he’s being bandied about nationally helps in Texas dealing with the Legislature,” said Ann Bowman, who teaches government and politics at Texas A&M.