Perry Backers Lament Errors in Campaign; Role Cited for Evangelicals

Article excerpt

Byline: Ralph Z. Hallow, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Rick Perry supporters say he and his campaign's top officials failed to rally evangelicals sufficiently to make him the viable alternative to Mitt Romney in what some conservatives say is rapidly turning into a disappointing non-contest for the presidential nomination.

Other conservatives have noted that while the Texas governor hasn't helped himself with his performance in recent debates, the Perry campaign team also has done a poor job on such matters as using surrogates and exploiting Mr. Romney's vulnerabilities.

Perry hasn't reached out to surrogates sufficiently to get them to help him with his errors, said Randy Brinson, a leader of the Christian Coalition in Alabama.

The paucity of Perry supporters on the campaign stump goes beyond the religious community.

He has too few surrogates and not just among evangelicals. Where's [Louisiana Gov. Bobby] Jindal? He endorsed Perry strong and early, said Dave Battaglia, an evangelical Christian and Indiana/Armstrong Tea Party Patriots executive committee member.

Nor has Mr. Perry, campaigning and performance problems aside, been able to close the deal with many evangelicals and conservative Catholics when it comes to matching beliefs with actions.

He hasn't made the case that he is committed to tying evangelical beliefs to public policy, Mr. Brinson said. George W. Bush did that in 2000, and he didn't have to go on the defensive with evangelicals as Perry has had to do.

The Texas governor entered the race with a splash and quickly became the Republican front-runner, especially boosted by his state's job-creation record. But his standing in polls - both nationally and in key early states - has slipped dramatically in the past few weeks, especially since businessman Herman Cain began to surge into the top tier.

Some Perry supporters say he still has a chance to perform better in debates, but that alone won't be enough to return him to the top tier of candidates and to make him the conservative alternative to the front-running Mr. Romney, whom conservatives view with suspicion.

After his debate performances, I am still hearing from most social-conservative leaders that they still want Perry to win and perform well because they think he is the only one with a real chance to beat Romney, said Kelly Shackelford, president of Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas. They are just waiting to see if he can get his legs back under him. If so, he could scoop up almost all the social-conservatives nationwide.

Mr. Shackelford was among 200 evangelical leaders who gathered on a private ranch west of Austin, Texas, to meet with Mr. Perry in August and said that while the governor impressed him, his campaigning since has not.

People want a real Ronald Reagan social and fiscal conservative candidate, he said. Perry totally fits that. He just has to also perform well as a candidate.

Mr. Brinson agreed, adding: Perry did nothing with that group in Austin. Didn't give them marching orders. He had the whole religious right in his back pocket and didn't pull them together into his constituency, the way George W. Bush did.

Several people who attended the Austin meeting said the Perry staff let some of the evangelical leaders turn the session into what Mr. Brinson called an inquisition, challenging Mr. Perry to explain some of his actions as governor.

Evangelicals are split because some of the so-called 'leaders' think that the candidates need to pay homage to them, and that is ridiculous, Mr. Brinson said. He needed then - and needs even more now - to make certain key evangelicals are integral parts of his team, and have access to media, in order to deflect criticism, when it arises. …