By Bob Cusack - 09/21/11 09:45 AM EDT
Republican members of Congress say Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) must deal with his political vulnerabilities better if he is going to win the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
The Republican front-runner is under attack for a variety of issues, most notably on immigration, Social Security, allegations of cronyism and his 2007 decision to mandate that schoolgirls be vaccinated against the virus that causes cervical cancer.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), the front-runner before Perry entered the race, zeroed in on his chief rival’s criticism of the nation’s Social Security system.
Yet it is his record on immigration that political analysts and GOP lawmakers say should cause the most concern for Perry.
Perry attracted 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2010 election, a high number for a Republican. But while his stance on immigration could boost his prospects against President Obama in the general election, he will be playing defense during the primary.
“What makes Perry most vulnerable in the Republican primaries is his weakness with the party base on immigration issues and, most acutely, his support of the Texas version of the DREAM Act,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. “The Texas program and its counterparts in other states are seen as rewards for bad behavior. This is a real point of sensitivity for those in the Tea Party concerned about ‘the rule of law.’”
Perry’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Perry has repeatedly lambasted the Secure Fence Act, which was passed by the GOP-led Congress and signed into law by then-President George W. Bush.
The measure, which called for a 700-mile-long fence to be built along the U.S.-Mexico border, was “a preposterous idea,” Perry said.
Most Democrats voted against the legislation, but then-Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.) backed it, attracting criticism from immigration reform activists. Other Democrats who supported the bill included Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.).
Perry told Time magazine this month that the border fence is a “cop-out,” making the case for “boots on the ground.”
Earlier this month in New Hampshire, Perry said, “If you build a 30-foot wall from El Paso to Brownsville, the 35-foot-ladder business gets real good.”
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a strong proponent of the border fence, said Perry should brace himself for more attacks from other White House hopefuls.
With a smile, King said, “I think the presidential candidates who are trying to win the nomination will want to talk about immigration.”
King, a kingmaker in Iowa, is widely expected to endorse his friend, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), for president.
DeMint has offered legislation that would complete the construction of the still-unfinished border fence, but he has also made clear that he is strongly opposed to the Massachusetts healthcare overhaul Romney signed into law as governor.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) contends that the border-fence controversy is overblown. McCaul, who recently endorsed Perry, said his fellow Texan has done more than any governor on border security over the last several years.
“I don’t think [the border fence] is going to be an issue,” McCaul said.
In 2010, Perry called on the Department of Homeland Security to send National Guard troops to secure the border. Perry has also floated the idea of using Predator drones to crack down on illegal immigrants, arguing that the aircraft are already flown in Texas as practice for Air Force pilots who direct them overseas.
Political observers say one of the reasons Perry is now the odds-on favorite to capture the nomination is because of his straight-talking style that is devoid of the nuances of Romney’s positions.
Perry’s lack of emphasis on caveats and details could hurt him in the long run, they add.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who has introduced legislation to gradually raise the eligibility age of Social Security recipients, said she is very pleased that Perry is highlighting the need to reform the entitlement system.
But Lummis said it is important for Perry to “learn to control his rhetoric so as not to scare people,” citing the Texas governor’s comparison of Social Security to a “Ponzi scheme” and his calling it a “failed program.”
“I would encourage him to phrase it differently,” Lummis said, adding that Perry’s willingness to tackle the issue will have an effect on her endorsement in the GOP presidential primary.
The next GOP presidential debate, sponsored by Fox News and Google, will take place Thursday night.