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Perry’s Sign Problem Could Spell Another Long Week Ahead


Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks to local residents at the “We the People: A First in the Nation Freedom Forum” town hall event on Oct. 1, 2011 in Hampton, N.H. Photo by Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.

Rick Perry came under fresh scrutiny Sunday in the aftermath of a story published by the Washington Post detailing the existence of a racially charged sign at the entrance of a West Texas ranch leased by the governor’s family.

The Post reported that the land had a stone at one of its gates with “Niggerhead” painted on it in big block letters. The name, according to the Post, became attached to the site before Perry’s family began using it in the 1980s.

However, in the Post’s account, Stephanie McCrummen writes that “the name of this particular parcel did not change for years after it became associated with Rick Perry, first as a private citizen, then as a state official and finally as Texas governor. Some locals still call it that. As recently as this summer, the slablike rock — lying flat, the name still faintly visible beneath a coat of white paint — remained by the gated entrance to the camp.”

In response to written questions from the Post, Perry said his father had the rock painted over in either 1983 or 1984. McCrummen reports that “Perry’s version of events differs in many respects from the recollections of seven people, interviewed by The Washington Post, who spoke in detail of their memories of seeing the rock with the name at various points during the years that Perry was associated with the property through his father, partners or his signature on a lease.”

The Perry campaign pushed back forcefully on the Post story Sunday. “A number of claims made in the story are incorrect, inconsistent, and anonymous, including the implication that Rick Perry brought groups to the lease when the word on the rock was still visible,” Perry campaign communications director Ray Sullivan responded in a statement. “The one consistent fact in the story is that the word on a rock was painted over and obscured many years ago.”

It remains to be seen just how damaging the issue will be for Perry, but at least one of his GOP rivals — Herman Cain — seized on the episode to criticize the Texas governor during an appearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“That is very insensitive,” Cain charged. “And since Governor Perry has been going there for years to hunt, I think that it shows a lack of sensitivity for a long time of not taking that word off of that rock and renaming the place.”

In turn, the Perry campaign shot back that Cain did not have his facts entirely straight. “Mr. Cain is wrong about the Perry family’s quick action to eliminate the word on the rock, but is right the word written by others long ago is insensitive and offensive,” communications director Sullivan said in a statement. “That is why the Perry’s took quick action to cover and obscure it.”

There is never a good time for a controversy to come up during a campaign, but for Perry, the Post story dropped at an especially difficult point in the race, with the governor coming off a shaky debate performance in Orlando less than two weeks ago, which was followed by his disappointing showing in the Florida straw poll last weekend.

Now instead of going back on offense, where Perry seems much more comfortable, the governor and his advisers will likely spend at least the next day or two cleaning up the sign issue, in what could be the start of another long week for the Perry campaign. And no matter how big his third quarter fundraising number is, it won’t likely prevent the moderators at the Bloomberg/Washington Post debate next week from asking a question about the language on that rock.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

President Obama landed his most direct attack thus far on the Republican contenders lining up to take his job.

In front of a largely gay audience at the annual Human Rights Campaign fundraising dinner on Saturday night, Mr. Obama chided his GOP opponents for not speaking out against the booing of a gay soldier that occurred in the audience at a recent candidate debate in Orlando.

“We don’t believe in the kind of smallness that says it’s okay for a stage full of political leaders — one of whom could end up being the President of the United States — being silent when an American soldier is booed,” Obama said to applause.

“We don’t believe in that. We don’t believe in standing silent when that happens. We don’t believe in them being silent since. You want to be Commander-in-Chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it’s not politically convenient,” he added.

On his West Coast fundraising swing last week, the president began taking note of some of the GOP debate audience reactions that have made headlines, but that was done mostly at fundraisers where cameras were not present.

Mr. Obama’s full-throated challenge to his Republican opponents, far before he has a GOP nominee on whom he can singularly focus, certainly indicates he is eager to begin drawing a contrast instead of simply running against himself and the economy.

And, perhaps more importantly, the president’s words indicate a clear strategic decision on the part of his re-election campaign to paint the Republicans as a wholly owned subsidiary of the more conservative Tea Party wing of the GOP.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake have a sneak peek at an Obama campaign memo set to be distributed to reporters on Monday that aims to do just that with regard to the two leading candidates.

“‘The campaign to win the Republican nomination has become a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Tea Party,’ writes Ben LaBolt, press secretary for Obama’s re-election effort. “‘They would return to policies that have been tried before and done nothing to improve economic security for the middle class, rewarding special interests who can afford to pay for lobbyists instead of looking out for working families.'”

“The memo, which amounts to the most direct assault against Perry and Romney by the president’s campaign to date, provides a window into the incumbent’s strategy as the GOP primary season begins to heat up.”

Be on the lookout to see if President Obama keeps up a sustained attempt at portraying the Republican field as extreme, or if he demurs more often than not so as to avoid full daily political combat for a bit longer.

LEAPFROGGING FLORIDA

The GOP nomination calendar dominoes are beginning to fall after Florida’s move on Friday to set its primary for January 31.

Over the weekend, the Nevada Republican Party voted to move its First-in-the-West caucuses ahead of Florida’s primary so as not to lose its special status as one of the four early states in the nomination process.

However, no date has been set. The Nevada GOP voted to schedule its caucuses for the Saturday following the New Hampshire primary.

Of course, the New Hampshire primary date is set by Secretary of State Bill Gardner and he has not yet showed his hand. On Friday, he said it was not out of the realm of possibility that he might schedule the primary in December of this year. (Though, that remains an unlikely scenario.)

The South Carolina Republican Party is set to announce its new pre-Florida primary date later Monday morning.

For all the best and latest calendar information, be sure to check out Josh Putnam’s Frontloading HQ blog.

ON THE TRAIL

All events listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama is in Washington, where his one public event will be a pool spray of the 11 a.m. Cabinet Meeting at the White House.

  • Herman Cain meets with Donald Trump in New York City at 12 p.m.

  • Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa, holding meet & greets in Clarion at 12 p.m., Grundy Center at 3 p.m. and Toledo at 5:30 p.m. He also hosts a town hall in Vinton at 8 p.m.

  • Texas Rep. Ron Paul attends two New Hampshire town halls, in Manchester at 2:30 p.m. and in Nashua at 6:30 p.m.

  • Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann holds a pair of Iowa town halls, in Sioux City at 4 p.m. and in Council Bluffs at 7 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney holds a town hall in Salem, N.H., at 5:45 p.m.

For all future campaign events be sure to check out our Political Calendar.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
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