While reporters are taking a hard look at Rick Perry's real policy record, at the Back to Basics PAC, we thought we'd dive into the second narrative the Perry camp is pushing: that's the notion that he's an expert campaigner, with impressive electoral prowess and campaign skills. Sure, he's never lost an election. We know. We know. But what about the elections he won? Yes, his vicious campaigns have defeated some hard-working and well-qualified opponents, but what's the real story on candidate Rick Perry?
It turns out that upon closer inspection, Mr. "Never Lost an Election" is not quite the dominant electoral force his handlers would have Americans believe. In fact, over the last 13 years, Rick Perry has been one of the weaker candidates Texas Republicans had to offer. Take a look at the numbers for yourself.
These historical election results show two things. First, sure, Rick Perry has won a lot of campaigns. But guess what? He’s routinely won general elections in a state in which Democrats have simply not been competitive in statewide elections. He won; but so did every other Republican on the statewide ballot. Secondly, over the last 13 years, Perry has far under-performed relative to other Republicans on the statewide ballot in Texas.
This isn’t a comprehensive review of every single statewide candidate since 1998. Certainly, there are Republicans who have been less impressive than Rick Perry. But these numbers are a meaningful window into the performance of Republicans in key races.
• In 1998, Lieutenant Governor candidate Rick Perry came in nearly 18% below Governor George Bush. And he came in over 7% worse than Land Commissioner candidate (and current Lieutenant Governor) David Dewhurst.
• In 2002, Perry viciously attacked his opponent, accusing him of laundering Mexican drug money. The result? Perry came in around 7% below Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and a couple points behind Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs.
• In 2006, Rick Perry won a bizarre 4-way campaign against publicity-minded Independent Kinky Friedman, lackluster Democrat Chris Bell and former Republican officeholder Carole Strayhorn (running as an Independent, with the quiet support of some traditional Democrats). Against these three underdogs, Perry limped to victory with a meager 39% of the vote. That same year, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison mangled her Democratic opponent by a margin of 61% to 36%.
That brings us to 2010. After election another ad in which he accused his opponent of coddling violent Mexicans, Perry defeated Houston Mayor Bill White with nearly 55% of the vote. His Lieutenant Governor, David Dewhurst, was re-elected with almost 62%.
But the general election is not the real story of 2010. The real story is that a sitting incumbent Governor – a man who had been a statewide elected official for almost 20 years – faced a three-way Republican primary, and nearly half of Texas Republicans voted for someone else. Why did nearly 50% of Texas Republicans want someone other than Rick Perry to serve as their party’s gubernatorial nominee? Maybe it was a reaction to his plan to force 6th grade girls to take a government-mandated STD vaccine. Perhaps it was a repudiation of his controversial Trans-Texas Corridor. But whatever the reason, it is an undeniable fact: just last year, nearly half of Texas Republican primary voters voted against Rick Perry. Maybe that explains why less than 90 days ago, only four percent of Texas Republicans said they’d support him in a race for President.
So the next time someone talks about the electoral powerhouse from Texas running for President, tell them to double check their numbers. Rick Perry might be lucky, he might even be good, but he sure isn’t invincible.