Bill Whalen

Perry … Dodge, Spin, Thrust

His spokesman says a final decision “will most likely be made in the next several weeks”.

But deep in the heart of Texas, the stars at night are big and bright . . . and, for Gov. Rick Perry who’s supposedly still up in the air over whether to enter the Republican presidential field, lining up just right.

Perry, in his dual capacity as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and Texas’ chief executive, just announced that he’s raised $22.1 million for the RGA in the first six months of 2011 – double the take of comparable cycles in 2007 and 2009.

Meanwhile, he’s invited the nation’s governors to a Christian prayer and fasting event at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on August 6.

And a McClatchy-Marist survey released last week says he’s the top choice among Tea Partiers for the GOP nomination, edging out Sarah Palin.

Translation: if Perry’s in, he hits the ground running with ready access to big money, a reliable base of social conservatives and choosy libertarians at least willing to listen.

There’s only catch: a political media that’s not only lying in wait, but potentially could be very hostile to the Texas governor.

I have a theory: in every presidential field, there’s at least one hopeful who’s a natural magnet for press scrutiny – their words, their record, their beliefs all media bait.

That’s true of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. It might also happen to Perry. As a braggadocious Texan, he begs the questions: how much hat, how much cattle? And, to reporters always looking to bring a balloon back to earth, he invites at least four lines of inquiry.

They are:

  1. Is the “Texas Miracle” All That Miraculous? At the heart of a Perry candidacy is the story of a state that just last month passed $1 trillion in annual economic output (only California is larger) and is home to three of every eight net new jobs since the “recovery” began two summers ago (Texas adding 265,300 such jobs vs. 722,200 for the entire nation). Already, reporters are looking for cracks in the façade. Perry boasts about swiping jobs from other states, but is that the stuff of sustained economic growth? And there’s a question as to whether those jobs incorporate both quantity and quality. While Republicans smack the President for a “McJobs” recovery, what will Perry say about the spike in minimum-wager earners in his state?
  2. Is Texas’ State Budget a Texas-Size Mess? Last month, Perry signed a budget that didn’t raise taxes and went easy on the state’s Rainy Day Fund. That will play well in Iowa. However, as it’s also a two-year budget, the tough choices were shelved until 2013 – in theory, when Perry might be living in a different time zone. Here’s another vulnerability: Perry, like other conservatives, is no fan of Obama stimulus spending. However, Texas used $6.4 billion in federal Recovery Act money to help plug the $6.6 billion hole in the state’s 2010-11 cycle.
  3. Is It Wiser to Beat Around, or Beat Up Bush? Reportedly, the ties are strained between Perry, who was lieutenant governor when George W. Bush won the presidency back in 2000, and POTUS 43’s camp. The source of friction: some say it began when Perry, as a surrogate for Rudy Giulani’s presidential campaign in late 2007, started trashing Bush as weak on spending during his Texas days. Others speculate the rift is more personal – Bush thinks Perry is a lightweight; Perry thinks the New Haven-born and Yale-educated Dubya is faux Texan, and so forth. Still others say this has more to do with consultants than the principals. In Texas, Aggies and Longhorns have learned to co-exist. How far can a Texas governor go without the support of an ex-President from his home state?
  4. Is a Press Pool Digging the Candidate — Or Digging for Dirt? Reportedly, Perry’s aides already are in rumor mode – the health of his marriage, his wife’s temperament, even the governor’s sexuality drifting across the Internet. If Perry is pristine, he may find this wearisome. If there’s a skeleton in the closet, beware: back in 2008, Roll Call broke a story about Idaho Sen. Larry Craig getting arrested in an airport bathroom for untoward behavior. The next day, at least three-dozen daily newspapers nationwide ran with the story. The National Enquirer broke the news of John Edwards’ affair, love child and subsequent cover-up. Not a newspaper covered it. You can say the differences are newspaper vs. tabloid and arrest record vs. unnamed sources. Then again, Edwards was a liberal and a media darling. Craig was an un-telegenic social conservative. Double standard, anyone?

Thus the early preview of a Perry candidacy: some thrusting, some spinning, and some dodging.

(btw, if you can’t make sense of the headline, here’s a clue).

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