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Despite His Stumbles, Members Stick by Rick Perry

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Members who have endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry are sticking by their man, saying he can still win the Republican presidential nomination despite a floundering campaign and sluggish debate appearances.

After a strong August entry into the race, Perry was considered a frontrunner, but he has since lost ground, particularly in public opinion polling.

But Rep. Michael McCaul, the first Member to back Perrys campaign and historically his strongest supporter on Capitol Hill, said his home-state governor can turn it around.

Ive known him for a long time hes a friend of mine and I know hes taking a little bit of a hit in the polls recently, but you know, in politics its a long time between now and the election, the Texas Republican said. You go through a lot of political lives in elections, and I still think hes a very strong candidate, and hes got a very good shot at being the nominee. I think hes going to have a comeback.

Perrys campaign took a blow when he was booed at two separate debates in September for supporting his states version of the DREAM Act, which grants in-state tuition to some children of illegal immigrants.

Nevertheless, McCaul, the only member of the Texas delegation to publicly support Perry in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, said Perry should be honest about his record on immigration and play to his strengths.

Its a tough one in the Republican primary. The question is, how fatal is that going to be? I think he can recover, but theres no question that its a hit, McCaul said. Hes got to get off that topic and move to what hes done for border security, and hes done a lot.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said the immigration issue might cost Perry endorsements in Congress.

I know there were a number of Members who were trying to decide whether to back Perry or [Mitt] Romney or whoever, and after Gov. Perry said, If you dont support this position, you dont have a heart, Ive had more than a couple of people say, When I heard that, I cant support him, said Gohmert, who has remained neutral in the race.

Perry has also been criticized for turning in pedestrian performances in the GOP debates, most recently on Tuesday night.

Rep. Steve Scalise, who has endorsed Perry, said he chalks that up to inexperience.

Hes going to get better. He tried a different approach Tuesday night, and hes going to continue trying different approaches, the Louisiana Republican said. Each time he gets out there, hes getting more of an opportunity to articulate his record.

Congressional Democrats have been attempting to stick Perry on race issues, especially after the Washington Post reported Perry used a hunting camp named Niggerhead.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) tried to bring a resolution to the floor condemning Perrys use of the camp, but it did not pass. Perry did receive a public reprieve on the issue from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), who is black and said she had never thought of Perry as a racist.

That should be enough to cool the issue, said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), who has expressed support for Perry.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who knows Gov. Perry quite well, said she has never seen him exhibit any characteristics, behavior, language or thought process that would be considered anything other than exemplary from her perspective, Sessions said. I think that speaks well.

However, Sessions Senate counterpart and fellow Texan, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn, said he is remaining neutral.

I have a responsibility as chairman of the NRSC, and I dont want to give anybody a reason why they wont support our efforts to regain the majority, Cornyn said.

Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling, the highest-ranking Member to endorse Perry so far, said he is sticking by his choice.

I support the man for president. I think hed make a great president. I hope he becomes our next president, the Texas lawmaker said.

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who has not endorsed anyone, said he will be backing Perry and hinted that Perry might announce several Congressional endorsements at the same time.

Hes a good, close friend, and I support him, Johnson said. I think hell turn it around.

Rep. Kevin Brady has not been a Perry booster he backed Hutchison in the gubernatorial primary but he also acknowledged that Perrys got a lot of opportunity to turn it around.

Clearly his fundraising numbers are very strong, hes got a great, compelling life story and a compelling job story in Texas, the Lone Star State Republican said.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who endured a bumpy but ultimately successful ride to his partys presidential nomination in 2008, said, There are lots of ups and downs in campaigns. I found out.

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