Rick Perry has, perhaps due to the more-localized nature of state politics, not caught fire in the media as a tea party icon. But his eyebrow-raising gaffes certainly place him in league with Sharron Angle or Rand Paul — and his slash-and-burn style is keeping the numbers in his quest for a third term far too close for comfort.
Perry generated some national controversy in the middle of 2009 when he infamously raised the specter of secession as a way of combating big government: “Texas is a unique place. When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that…if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what may come of that?” This statement outraged Keith Olbermann, though, so conservatives didn’t seem to care that Perry was being blatantly unpatriotic.
Earlier this year, of course, Perry trounced Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in the gubernatorial primary after being out-weirded by a tea party activist named Debra Medina. Both were challenging Perry largely on the rationale that his choice to run for a third term exemplified the arrogance of power. However, coming from Hutchison, a consummate insider, the argument just seemed too hypocritical (and Medina just seemed too batty), and Perry won a majority of the vote, making even a runoff unnecessary. Still, it’s never a good sign when an incumbent governor can only cobble together half of the vote in his own primary.
Perry’s mouth got him in trouble again when, a few days ago, weirdly linking same-sex marriage to threats to job creation, he blasted: “We’re creating more jobs than any other state in the nation…Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where guys can marry guys?”
In a ruby-red state like Texas — and in a year like this — it is astonishing that Perry is leading his opponent, former Houston mayor Bill White, by only eight points among likely voters. In contrast, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley leads by sixteen points. It is only in light of his aggressive, overtly ideological style that it makes sense that Perry’s numbers look more like those of New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, who is running in a blue state to replace a Democratic governor. Perry’s claim about jobs is wrong, by the way: his state’s unemployment rate (8.5%) is more than twice that of the state that’s really creating the most jobs per-capita — North Dakota, with its rate of 4.1%. That state’s governor, the center-right John Hoeven, is going to replace retiring Democrat Byron Dorgan in the Senate, probably by an earth-shattering margin of about fifty points.
In the end, the odds that Perry will lose are negligible. Bill White is simply too soft-spoken and the year is amounting to a tidal wave for Republicans that looks more like 1994 than 2006. But Perry’s performance has not proven him to be a reliable winner. If he truly has national ambitions, he ought to check them at the governor’s mansion’s door when he returns next year for his third term.