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 Perry’s campaign and historically his strongest supporter on Capitol Hill, said his home-state governor can turn it around.
“I’ve known him for a long time — he’s a friend of mine — and I know he’s taking a little bit of a hit in the polls recently, but you know, in politics it’s 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 he’s a very strong candidate, and he’s got a very good shot at being the nominee. I think he’s going to have a comeback.”
Perry’s campaign took a blow when he was booed at two separate debates in September for supporting his state’s 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.
“It’s a tough one in the Republican primary. The question is, how fatal is that going to be? I think he can recover, but there’s no question that it’s a hit,” McCaul said. “He’s got to get off that topic and move to what he’s done for border security, and he’s 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 don’t support this position, you don’t have a heart,’ I’ve had more than a couple of people say, ‘When I heard that, I can’t 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.
“He’s going to get better. He tried a different approach Tuesday night, and he’s going to continue trying different approaches,” the Louisiana Republican said. “Each time he gets out there, he’s 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 Perry’s 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 don’t want to give anybody a reason why they won’t 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 he’d 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.
“He’s a good, close friend, and I support him,” Johnson said. “I think he’ll turn it around.”
Rep. Kevin Brady has not been a Perry booster — he backed Hutchison in the gubernatorial primary — but he also acknowledged that Perry’s “got a lot of opportunity to turn it around.”
“Clearly his fundraising numbers are very strong, he’s 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 party’s presidential nomination in 2008, said, “There are lots of ups and downs in campaigns. I found out.”
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.