Rick Perry’s Hail Mary

The frontrunner has become a bottom feeder. He’s polling lower than Newt Gingrich. Can he turn it around?
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It’s hard to know when to give up, especially for a politician who has been told countless times by close friends and supporters and fundraisers (not to mention spouses) that his country needs him, that Americans are crying out for his leadership, that he is the Chosen One. Then the inevitable happens: You have to convince everyone else. Campaigns can be brutal. Journalists are mean. Voters ask questions. Big donors want results. You’re supposed to give policy speeches. You’re expected to know  what century the American Revolution took place. You’re force-fed nauseating corndogs at county fairs. So when is it time to implement that graceful exit strategy?

Not that Rick Perry’s there yet—he’s got $15 million in the bank and attack ads at the ready. There’s no way he’s getting out before a loser like Rick Santorum. The question is, how long can he stay in? After his flat and underwhelming performance in Tuesday night’s New Hampshire debate, where he seemed more interested in making awkward facial expressions than actually talking, things don’t look so good. Most people viewed this debate as a major opportunity for Perry to redeem himself from the last debate and his plummeting poll numbers. Perry wasn’t helped by the fact that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—the man to beat until he reminded people that he had no intention of running—endorsed Mitt Romney.

The latest Rasmussen Reports poll shows Herman Cain and Romney tied at the top with 29 percent (yes, while you were sleeping, Mr. 9-9-9 became the new favorite). Newt Gingrich is in third with 10 percent. Meanwhile Perry couldn’t even break double-digits, clocking in at 9 percent. Perry’s numbers in New Hampshire and Florida are abysmal.

Oh, how the Almighty has fallen.

Of course, a guy like Perry isn’t going down without a fight. I mean, the frontrunner is a Mormon. That’s low-hanging fruit for conservative evangelicals. If Perry can just keep reminding them that Romney is a Mormon, and that he’s the real Christian, maybe it will help. Last Friday at the Value Voters Summit, Perry did just that by aligning himself with Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, who claims that Mormonism is a cult. Speaking in South Carolina on Thursday, Anita Perry gave a tearful speech at Bob Jones University, saying that despite the “rough month” that she and her husband have endured, their faith remains unshakable. Anita added that Perry was called by God to enter the campaign because he is the only “true conservative.” It’s enough to make you think Perry might put Jesus Christ on the ticket, unless Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s available.

But even Perry’s religious fervor can only take him so far. A story in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday scrutinized Perry’s jobs record in Texas, which is perhaps the last thing that Perry can tout to convince donors that he remains a viable candidate. He’s never going to convince anyone that he’s the smoothest debater or a foreign policy guru or the smartest guy in the room. What he has is his jobs record. Or does he?

According to the Wall Street Journal:

In promoting his Texas job-creation record, Gov. Rick Perry often cites the success of an economic-development fund he initiated eight years ago. According to the governor’s website, the Texas Enterprise Fund’s $440 million in taxpayer grants has brought more than 59,000 new and promised jobs to the state.

A close look at some of its largest grants—including $50 million in 2005 to establish a Texas Institute for Genomic Medicine at Texas A&M University, Mr. Perry’s alma mater—suggests the program’s job claims sometimes have been inflated by counting employment gains far removed from the actual projects.

To make matters worse, Joshua Green writes at length in Bloomberg Businessweek that some of the state’s top business leaders question Perry’s jobs claims, which the Perry camp refers to as the “Texas Miracle.” Green points out that 65 percent of the new jobs in Texas since 2007 were government jobs. Due to the deep budget cuts this year, it’s estimated that 50,000 jobs in the public sector will vanish. The unemployment rate here hit 8.5 percent in August. A little hard to campaign on that. And Texas actually lost jobs in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Increased scrutiny on his jobs record could be fatal for Perry. He’s endured several other controversies already, including the revelation of the name of his family’s West Texas hunting camp. Speaking of insensitivity, next month members of the state DMV board—all of whom are Perry appointees—will vote on whether to approve Confederate flag license plates, and opponents are calling on the governor to denounce them. Perry’s solution may be just to paint over them, which is what he’s done with most of the problems in Texas. But unfortunately for Perry, people are beginning to look closer.