Ring the Bell: Perry is In

Gov. Rick Perry in South Carolina

If President Obama wore boots, like Rick Perry does, now would be the time to shake in them. That’s because Republican primary voters now have a candidate in Perry that not only can they be excited about but who actually has a shot at beating Mr. Obama for the White House.

The problem for Governor Romney, the current “frontrunner,” is despite his credentials as a businessman and Governor, he simply has very little credibility on one of the most important issues to GOP primary voters:  President Obama’s health care law.  As governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed a universal health care law that many see as the blueprint for the law that was passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Obama.

Republican Strategist Matt Mackowiak, who was in South Carolina for Perry’s announcement, said “Conservatives don’t want any doubt in their mind that the nominee can prosecute Obama” on health care reform.  “When Perry says ‘we’re going to repeal Obamacare on day one, you believe him. When Romney says it, you wonder,” Mackowiak said.

Conservatives call President Obama’s health care law “Obamacare,” and many have similarly called Gov. Romney’s law “Romneycare.

As for the speech itself today, Mackowiak said “You could have lit a match in here and the place would have gone up in flames.”

A Democratic operative I talked with immediately following the speech agreed with Mackowiak that Obama has a fight on his hands that he simply did not previously.

Glenn W. Smith, a longtime Democratic Strategist who ran campaigns for the late Governor Ann Richards, told me Perry’s candidacy scares him.

“I think he’ll win the nomination,” Smith said. “Interesting that this election will pit a Southern Secessionist Governor against the country’s first black president.”

“Nobody should ever underestimate him. He can be totally ruthless. He called his opponent in his re-election bid last year a cop-killer,” Smith said. “We don’t know what cops Romney and Bachmann killed, but he’ll find them.”

Smith also offered a preview of the kind of attacks President Obama’s campaign would be sure to launch against Perry if he makes it to a general election.

“Perry criticized the stimulus, which for him amounted to a Texas sized bailout,” Smith said.  “Without that stimulus it is highly unlikely he would be a candidate for president. He would have had to raise taxes in 2009 to cover that gap.”

The Republican-led legislature did, in its 2009 session, use billions in stimulus money to cover 97 percent of the state budget shortfall, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.  President Obama has said Gov. Perry “used stimulus fund to help balance his budget, then started ‘blaming’ federal lawmakers who voted for legislation,” a statement Politifact Texas has rated as “mostly true.”

The arguments over how Perry and the GOP legislature balanced the budget and dealt with the recession will be key because this is an election that will be litigated on the economy.  Americans want to know who will be the candidate for the White House who can put people back to work.

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