Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry (left) and Mitt Romney prepare to shake hands with other candidates at the end of a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express at the Florida state fairgrounds in Tampa on Monday.
“I don’t think they’re trying to win the Washington primary. He’s never been that type of candidate,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Perry supporter and GOP strategist from Texas. “These folks in Washington want to know who they’re supporting, but they also want to support the winner. Those two factors are in direct conflict right now.”
Perry’s Capitol Hill strategy stands in contrast to that of other candidates — some of whom have been working the halls of Congress for several years. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty tapped Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) to set up introductory breakfasts with Members for his now-defunct presidential campaign starting in early 2010.
Perry’s chief competition, Romney, began working Members in advance of his 2008 presidential bid. By the time of the Iowa caucuses, Romney boasted more Congressional endorsements than the eventual nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Capitol Hill veteran of almost three decades.
Since his 2008 campaign, Romney has maintained his relationships with Members and forged new ones with freshmen. He invested millions in Republican Congressional campaigns around the country. Today, the Romney campaign counts two Senators and 11 House Members on its public endorsement list.
Perry’s late entrance into the race puts him at a disadvantage in this area as his Capitol Hill allies attempt to play catch-up.
Three of Perry’s Congressional backers — Scalise, Graves and Miller — recalled that Perry’s campaign never asked for their support. They called his campaign on their own to say they wanted to endorse him.
“I actually reached out to the Perry campaign and told them that I’d like to endorse the governor,” said Miller, who backed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 primary. “Most people would think I would be with Romney because he’s a Michigan guy, but my inclination is for Rick Perry.”
Graves phoned Perry in mid-June to say he was waiting for him to jump into the race. While Perry’s operation continues to build, Graves said he’s reaching out to his Missouri colleagues to seek their support.
“It’s more organic right now as opposed to an organized effort. I’m sure they’ll get pretty active and aggressive on that,” Graves said. “I’m going to be working on a lot of my colleagues, too. I’m just going to be doing that on my own.”
Perry has also yet to make significant inroads in the Senate. He’s never met one of the chamber’s leading conservative kingmakers, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), in person. Perry canceled what was supposed to be their first meeting at DeMint’s presidential campaign forum after deadly wildfires erupted in Texas.
But Perry and DeMint have spoken on the phone a few times, according to a source close to DeMint. The South Carolinian called Perry in late 2009 to ask for his thoughts about candidates to succeed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who was expected to resign to run for governor at the time.
Perry’s fundraising efforts on K Street have progressed further than his Congressional relations, said Texas Republican operatives and aides.
The pair of upcoming fundraisers feature A-list host committees, including rainmakers formerly aligned with the presidential campaigns of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Giuliani.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.