Texas Gov. Rick Perry is reportedly making a “last-ditch effort” to salvage his floundering presidential campaign with ads aimed at social conservative voters in Iowa. Perry has spent a million dollars on TV ads in Iowa, which holds its first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses on Jan. 3, and the two most recent ads have highlighted the Texan’s religious faith and social issues.
Wednesday, Perry began airing an Iowa ad in which he promises to “end Obama’s war on religion” and “fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.” That ad sparked controversy because Perry mentions the recent repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, saying: “You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” Yet Perry’s spokesman blunted the potential impact of that ad by disclaiming any intention by the candidate to reinstate the policy prohibiting open homosexuality in the armed services.
Michael O’Brien of NBC News described the Perry ads as “part of an emergent strategy … a last-ditch effort to revive his campaign,” and quoted Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying “that’s probably the only path he has left, to be honest.” Sanders is the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses during his 2008 Republican presidential campaign.
Perry began his campaign with a high-profile “diss” of the Hawkeye State, choosing to announce his candidacy in South Carolina on the same day as the Iowa GOP straw poll in Ames. Republican sources in Iowa at that time told me that the Perry campaign had approached state GOP officials about participating in the Aug. 13 straw poll but evidently decided against it. Perry quickly vaulted to the front of the Republican pack - peaking at 31.8 percent in the Real Clear Politics national poll average on Sept. 12 - only to see his support collapse after a series of disastrous performances in televised debates. The Texan is currently in fifth place in the RCP average, with 7 percent, and the most recent Des Moines Register poll showed Perry with 6 percent among Iowa GOP voters, tied with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, whose low-budget campaign has spent only a fraction of the millions spent by the Perry campaign.
Santorum, the only GOP candidate who has campaigned in all of Iowa’s 99 counties this year, could present a surprisingly formidable obstacle to Perry’s attempt to woo social conservative voters in the Hawkeye State. Santorum was endorsed last week by Sioux City Pastor Cary Gordon, an influential leader of evangelical Christians in the state. Santorum released newspaper ads in Iowa this week declaring “no surrender” on social issues. The decisions of five Republican candidates, including Perry, to boycott a Dec. 27 debate hosted by Donald Trump and NewsMax has resulted in a coup for Santorum, who is now set for a one-on-one showdown with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the current Republican front-runner. Also, Santorum has picked up the endorsement of Iowa Secretary of State Mike Schultz, the Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs reported yesterday.
Meanwhile, as NBC’s O’Brien reported, the board of the Family Leader, a major Iowa social conservative organization, has been unable to reach a consensus over which candidate to back in the caucuses and may end up making no endorsement this year. The chairman of the Family Leader, Bob Vander Plaats, told NBC that while Perry had emphasized economic issues “when he was the front-runner … Now he’s getting back to square one, which is: Who is Rick Perry?”
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