The Republican presidential primary has saved one last indignity for Rick Perry.
The Texas governor, who long ago ended his own run for the White House, will likely watch his onetime rival Mitt Romney officially clinch the GOP’s presidential nomination in his home state on Tuesday, the official coronation for the man who essentially clinched the party’s nod two months ago. Romney marches into Tuesday with 1,086 delegates, according to an Associated Press tally, and needs only 60 more to reach the 1,144 necessary for a majority; Texas has 155 at stake.
The ease of Romney’s expected victory in Texas – he’s not even campaigning there this week – is a reminder of Perry’s steep drop from possible presidential favorite to also-ran. The decade-long governor of the nation’s largest conservative state looked like a serious threat to Romney’s campaign only nine months ago, when in August he officially became a presidential candidate. Polls showed him trouncing Romney while his campaign appeared to assemble a nationwide network that could compete with the former Massachusetts governor.
But a series of infamously bad presidential debates torpedoed Perry’s credibility, and before the South Carolina Republican primary in mid-January, he unceremoniously bowed out of the campaign. Now, he’s powerless to stop Romney from rolling over Texas as he becomes the party’s standard-bearer against President Obama in the fall.
“Alas, [Perry’s campaign] seems so long ago,” said Jim Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
Perry, of course, supports Romney as the nominee after having initially backed Newt Gingrich, and he’s made an effort to help his former competitor transition to the general election. Last Thursday, the governor participated in a conference call with his donors and Romney urging them to donate to the GOP's putative presidential nominee. Earlier, Anita Perry attended a fundraiser in Austin with Ann Romney.
“The goal was to energize and encourage Governor Perry’s biggest financial supporters to help the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee now that the nomination is Mitt Romney’s to be had,” said Ray Sullivan, a Perry spokesman. “And we’re all focusing on the fall campaign and defeating President Obama.”
Sullivan said that although nothing is scheduled as of yet, he expects Perry will campaign for and with Romney during the general election campaign. Right now, the spokesman added, the governor is more focused on getting his lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, the party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate.
The Texas Senate primary, in fact, has become the state’s main attraction Tuesday. It features a four-way battle among Dewhurst, former football commentator Craig James, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and onetime Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz.
Although Dewhurst is the favorite, it’s unclear if he’ll reach to the 50 percent threshold necessary to prevent a runoff in late July. He would fall short of the mark despite the adamant support of Perry and much of his political inner circle, like his longtime political guru Dave Carney, who’s a senior adviser on Dewhurst’s campaign.
Watching his chosen Senate candidate fail to win the seat would be yet another blow to Perry’s credibility – this time suffering an embarrassing defeat not nationally, but in a state where he's been the political king since 2000. But to Henson, the governor still has pull with conservatives in the state -- enough to still be an asset to Dewhurst.
It’s “implausible” to think his stumbles in the presidential race didn’t hurt him back home, the political science professor said, but added that the scorn he received while running for president could be asset for him in the famously independent state.
“There’s a siege mentality among conservatives that the governor is very good at exploiting,” said Henson.