RICHMOND, Va. -- After taking heat from Rep. Michele Bachmann for requiring Texas schoolgirls to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday hit back at his rival for the Republican presidential nomination, saying that her suggestion the vaccine could be linked to mental retardation is groundless.
Bachmann's remarks had “no basis in fact,” Perry told reporters after a speech at a Virginia Republican Party fundraising luncheon. Perry was asked to comment on Bachmann’s assertion after Monday night’s candidate debate that use of the vaccine might be linked to mental retardation. The Republican from Minnesota told Fox News, “There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine.… She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result. There are very dangerous consequences.”
During the debate, Perry called the use of an executive order a mistake, but said he stood by his support for the vaccine. He reiterated that position on Wednesday, and described his personal connection to the fight against cancer. “I hate this disease that impacted my family. My mom and my dad are both cancer survivors,” Perry said. “And to see young ladies who have died from cervical cancer -- I sat on the side of a bed of a young lady, and she was dying from cervical cancer. And it had an impact on me.”
Addressing the friendly GOP crowd in Richmond, Perry weighed in on the spectacular upset victory of Republican Bob Turner in a heavily Democratic district in New York City on Tuesday. New York “sure got the message,” Perry said, when they chose Turner, a state senator, for the seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner after a sexting scandal. The district had been represented by a Democrat for 90 years.
“This is an administration and frankly a political party that’s on the ropes, and the American people understand that,” Perry said of the Obama White House. On Obama’s jobs plan, unveiled earlier this week, he said, “Another half a trillion in stimulus is not going to do anything except make Americans even stronger in their support for Republicans.”
Perry spoke at the event at the invitation of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who introduced his Texas counterpart but who has so far declined to endorse a candidate. McDonnell’s backing would provide a boost for a candidate in an important battleground state. He and Perry ribbed each other throughout their remarks about which state was better for job creation. Perry spoke warmly of Perry and the two greeted each other with a hug when Perry took the stage.
Republicans sense an opportunity to take back Virginia from Obama, who won the state with 53 percent of the vote in 2008. Anger at the president’s policies stirred Republican voters just one year later, and they delivered the governor’s mansion to McDonnell, a former attorney general, 59 percent to 41 percent. McDonnell replaced Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine. McDonnell is also serving as the current head of the Republican Governors Association, having replaced Perry as the organization’s leader last month.