Who knew Texas Gov. Rick Perry would get into such a sticky mess by giggling over his own jokes and a gift of New Hampshire maple syrup?
It’s been nearly a week since YouTube clips from his speech at a gala event in Manchester went viral – along with suggestions that the presidential candidate couldn’t have been so relaxed and animated unless he’d been drinking or taking pain-killers.
Now Republican activists in the state are saying it’s time to stop the smear campaign.
“Whether it’s another campaign that has initiated this, or the media have just decided that they’re bored actually doing their job in covering the issues of the primary – whatever it is – this has been almost a week of wasting the time of the American voters,” Jennifer Horn told the Monitor Thursday morning.
Ms. Horn, a former Congressional candidate and founder of the nonprofit conservative group “We the People,” organized a press conference for Thursday afternoon with other unaligned Republican figures who hope to refocus attention on the substance of the primary race.
“We’re choosing the next leader of the free world here, and what should be reported on is the content of his speech,” Horn said.
At 2 p.m. at The New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, Horn was to be joined by several other Republicans who attended Perry’s speech and have not yet endorsed a candidate. Among them: New Hampshire Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien and Shannon McGinley, board chairman of Cornerstone, the research and policy group that featured Governor Perry last Friday as the keynote speaker for its annual fundraising dinner.
The YouTube clips of the speech, viewed by more than 1 million people, show Perry praising New Hampshire for its “Live Free or Die” logo and gleefully touting his flat tax plan as he waves his proposed postcard-size tax form. He jokes that even Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner could get his taxes done on time with this form – and unlike another candidate’s plan, his wouldn’t expand the state’s tax footprint by 9 percent.
But the clips also show Perry taking on a more serious tone as he criticizes the Obama administration for its support of Planned Parenthood and hammers on the need for energy independence and a growing economy.
Perry’s playful approach to the speech prompted speculation in some social media, news stories, and comedy shows about whether he was under the influence. Horn says that does a disservice to the democratic process, and she would be just as upset if it happened to any of the other candidates.
“What’s being suggested ... is not what happened. It’s not fair to influence voters ... with a story that simply isn’t true,” Horn says. “If you were there, you saw 450 serious, engaged primary voters who were impressed by what they saw, gave him a standing ovation, and walked away thinking, ‘Gee, for a guy who doesn’t do so well in debates, he really did a great job with this speech.’ ”
Some in the media have taken a more measured approach to the story. In the Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog, Chris Cillizza writes:
"The tone of the speech – regardless of the reason(s) for it – was a clear break from the more reserved and even stiff public persona that Perry has projected in the race to date.
"That, in and of itself, is somewhat newsworthy. Was this Perry trying out a new approach as he seeks to re-energize his candidacy? Is this actually Perry’s private persona? Or was this not strategic at all?"
And Perry himself speaks up in an interview Thursday in the San Francisco Chronicle, plainly saying he was not under the influence:
“I've probably given 1,000 speeches. There are some that have been probably boring, some that have been animated, some that have been in between,” he said.
But “ask the people who were there,” he said, “not some political opponent who has put a video up.”