Hunting camp flap is not Rick Perry's biggest problem

Controversy over the name of a hunting camp leased by Rick Perry gives his GOP opponents fresh ammunition. But a bigger challenge to Perry's campaign is fading support among independents.

Charles Krupa/AP
Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry gestures as he answers a question during an address during a campaign stop in Derry, N.H., Friday.

Rick Perry is defending himself against charges that he leased a hunting camp with a racially charged name, in case you haven’t heard.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that the west Texas camp’s offensive moniker – which we won’t repeat here – was visible on a rock at the camp entrance into the 1990s, despite the fact it had been painted over. The Perry campaign insists that the camp was renamed shortly after Governor Perry’s father first leased it 30 years ago, and that Perry himself has a long record of racial inclusiveness as Texas governor.

Is this flap going to be a big problem? Well, it’s certainly not a good thing for the Perry campaign, as critics continue to argue about exactly who saw what at the camp entrance, and when. It gives his GOP opponents something else to hit Perry with during presidential debates.

“Since Governor Perry has been going there for years to hunt, I think that it shows a lack of sensitivity for a long time of not taking that word off of that rock and renaming the place,” said Republican hopeful Herman Cain on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour" on Sunday.

Conservatives, for their part, have been livid over the story, saying it is thin and does nothing to connect Perry personally to offensive speech or actions.

“It is drive-by slander,” wrote conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt on his blog Sunday.

But the fact is that several days of a cycling bad news story is not Perry’s biggest challenge at the moment. No, his biggest problem may be this: His rough campaign performances appear to be turning off some crucial independent voters. In turn, that’s threatening to undermine his claim that he’s electable against President Obama.

Just look at the latest RealClearPolitics poll data on head-to-head matchups between Mr. Obama and GOP candidates to see what we mean. It shows that in recent weeks Perry has been losing ground to the president.

Back in the middle of September, Obama and Perry were in a virtual dead heat, according to RCP data. But now Obama has opened up a lead of eight percentage points or so, at 49.1 percent of voters to Perry’s 41.5, according to RCP’s rolling average of major polls.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney does better in this same data set. He trails the president by only two percentage points, at 46.9 to 44.8 percent.

Perry is still the front-runner among GOP candidates, according to most polls. He’s first with a plurality of 26.5 percent of voters in RCP’s rolling average. Mr. Romney trails at 23 percent. But even in this measure, Perry is falling. His GOP lead peaked in mid-September and has been declining ever since.

That’s the major challenge confronting the Perry campaign. His star has appeared to be fading for weeks now, and he needs to find a way to restore its luster.

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