Rick Perry's tactics: Attack opponents for his own sins (rampant cronyism, getting rich in office, fiscal management & big-government programs).
By REID J. EPSTEIN & MAGGIE HABERMAN
Rick Perry went into Tuesday night’s debate looking to rattle Mitt Romney — and it worked.
Perry’s been under fire for his own immigration record, and resurrecting the 2007 report that Romney had hired illegal workers helped him blunt the advantage Romney had been able to get on the issue as Perry looks to recover from his collapse in the polls.
Plus, according to a Perry source, there was an added bonus: by going after Romney personally — the accusation has to do with Romney’s own house — they saw the potential to make Romney react the hardest.
And despite the headlines at the time, the issue didn’t get the attention Perry’s campaign believes it could have when it surfaced in Romney’s first run for president four years ago, and gives Perry a new opening into coming at Romney as a flip-flopper.
“This is the start of Romney vs. Romney. We’ll have him debating himself before this is over,” said one senior Perry adviser, explaining the strategy.
Perry’s campaign was prepared for the attack, emailing reporters a 2007 Boston Globe that first revealed the presence of undocumented workers at Romney’s Belmont, Mass., home. The campaign also sent a release headlined “Romney is a fraud on immigration.”
“Despite tough talk directed at employers hiring illegal aliens, it was discovered in the last campaign that Romney went a decade without checking the citizenship status of those who tended to his 2½ acre lawn,” the campaign wrote.
Perry’s senior political adviser Dave Carney said in the post-debate spin room that Romney’s vulnerability on the issue is clear.
“When you make a holier-than-thou argument about it and you know about hiring illegals … it seems kind of hypocritical,” Carney said.
For the last few weeks, Perry was under attack for his own position on immigration — opposing a border fence and providing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants at Texas colleges — but an offensive defense personal attack is a Perry campaign staple. He did it in his 2010 re-election race, for example, when he turned to calling his primary opponent Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison a tool of Washington to rebut his own $300,000 in travel expenses for his own D.C. campaign events.
“Rick Perry frequently attacks opponents for something he himself is guilty of,” wrote the researchers at Des Moines-based Link Strategies in the introduction to their book of opposition research for Perry’s 2010 Democratic opponent, Bill White.
“Throughout the remainder of this campaign, we should expect Perry to continue his hypocritical attacks — this is big part of his communications strategy. Their goal is to take Perry’s biggest weaknesses (rampant cronyism, getting rich while in office, poor fiscal management, and support for big-government programs like the Trans-Texas Corridor and mandatory HPV shots) and find ways to make it appear that White has a worse record on similar issues.”
Giuliani brought it up during the November 2007 CNN/YouTube debate.
“There were six sanctuary cities, he did nothing about them,” Giuliani said. “There was even a sanctuary mansion. At his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed, not being turned in to anybody or by anyone, and then when he deputized the police, he did it two weeks before he was going to leave office, and they never seemed to even catch the illegal immigrants who were working at his mansion. So I would say he had sanctuary mansion, not just sanctuary city.”
But Giuliani, as the former mayor of a sanctuary city himself, couldn’t make the line of attack stick.
Wilson said he saw Perry’s attack on the issue as damaging not just because it brought back the policy, but personalized the charge in a way that seems set to shake Romney’s inevitability argument.
“He laid a mitt on Mitt after Mitt has owned this issue for two debates and really damaged him,” Wilson said. “He brought it back into the discussion that a lot of base voters are going to think, oh shoot, what the hell was that about?”
In the four weeks until the next debate, Perry will now have to bring that argument to appearances in the early states. In Iowa, where Perry two weekends ago failed to convince voters who attended his town hall meetings that the Texas in-state tuition bill was anything less than a subsidy to undocumented immigrants, Tuesday’s gambit isn’t likely to so quickly erase Perry’s problems, said Steve Scheffler, one of Iowa’s two Republican National Committee delegates.
“I don’t know if it will work,” Scheffler said. “It’s hard to tell what’s going to trip the trigger to get candidates. Whether those kind of things take traction or not, I don’t know.”
And in New Hampshire, former GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen said Republican voters are immune to attacks on Romney that are recycled from the 2008 campaign.
“One of the reasons why Romney’s numbers are so solid is that voters know good and bad about him,” Cullen said. “The reasons why attacks on RomneyCare are not hurting him is it’s already been factored in. Issues that came up four years ago about Mitt Romney don’t seem to be having the same effect that they did then.”
Ed Rollins, who managed Mike Huckabee’s campaign, said the issue was “not a killer issue” in 2008 and, because it will be old news to many GOP voters, may have less impact now.
“The key thing here is not lying about it,” Rollins said. “I don’t know what the facts are anymore on this, but he better be able to produce the documents.”
Ben Smith contributed to this report.
© 2011 Politico: www.politico.com
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