— Though his wife went on the defensive and suggested that he had been negatively singled out in the Republican presidential nomination race for his faith, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Friday that those arrows slung his way are just part of the normal campaign process.
"Family members always take these campaigns a little more personally than the candidates do. I’ve been shot at and missed and shot at and hit for 20 years, running for public office,’’ Perry told Matt Lauer in a live interview on TODAY. “Being the chief executive officer of the state of Texas, we have our ups and downs. The fact is, those are just distractions. Americans want to hear a conversation about who is going to get this country back working again and that’s what I’m staying focused on.’’
But in a separate Friday morning interview on “Good Morning America,” Perry took a different tack. “I’ll stand by my wife,” he said. “My understanding is that she said I’m the most conservative candidate in the race and ‘he’s a Christian.’ So I haven’t got anything I can add to that, and she’s hit me on my mark both times there.”
At a recent gathering of devout Christians, Perry’s wife, Anita, let her guard down and discussed a month in which her husband’s poll numbers have plummeted while his campaign has been under fire after controversial statements by a Texas pastor regarding the Mormon faith of rival candidate Mitt Romney. She has admitted that she did not know the campaign would be this intense, and empathizes with the families of other candidates.
“It’s been a rough month,’’ Anita Perry said at the event. “I don’t have to tell you. We’ve been brutalized and chewed up in the press.’’
The 15-point lead Perry enjoyed less than two months ago in the race to become the GOP presidential candidate has evaporated. He has gone from the front-runner in August to a distant third place behind Herman Cain and Romney. Perry, who has never lost an election, has watched his numbers plummet from 38 percent to 16 percent in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
Ups and downs
“Polls are going to go up and down,’’ Perry told Lauer on TODAY Friday. “I don’t worry too much about polls. I know a lot of people obsess with them and watch them and talk about them. I’m more worried about those people out there who don’t have a job in America.
“I’ve run for office now three times as the governor of the state of Texas. My numbers have been up, they’ve been down, and again, I don’t worry about those. I go out every day and try to do my job.’’
When Lauer suggested that the Texas pastor who recently said Mitt Romney was not a true Christian due to his Mormon faith was a “surrogate” for the Perry campaign, the governor took issue: “I think you’re stretching to say that he was a surrogate,’’ he said. “He was picked, and he made his comments on his own. We’ve distanced ourselves from those comments. I’ve clearly said that I did not agree with his comments. If we’re going to spend the time in the campaign defending what someone who has endorsed us has said out there in the public, President Obama is going to spend a lot of time talking about defending people who are saying things about him that he probably doesn’t stand by. These are all distractions, and I understand the issue of distraction.’’
Speaking from Pittsburgh, Perry gave Lauer a preview of a planned speech later Friday in which he intends to discuss his plan for creating more jobs, which includes opening up federal lands and waters to exploration and “pulling back those regulations that are killing jobs,’’ as well as rebuilding the Environmental Protection Agency. He argued for tort reform to prevent an onslaught of lawsuits that would tie up opening federal lands for years as well as a facelift for the EPA.
“Let (the EPA) become an agency where you clearly have its appropriate role of making decisions between states where there’s conflict, but allowing those decisions to flow back to the states,’’ Perry told Lauer. “I promise you men and women who are in the environmental division of the states know well how to take better care of those communities.’’