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Star-Telegram.com

Democrats hope to convince voters that Perry's "Texas miracle" is a mirage

Posted Friday, Aug. 26, 2011

By Dave Montgomery

dmontgomery@star-telegram.com

AUSTIN -- As he runs for the nation's highest office, Gov. Rick Perry touts his record as Texas' longest-serving governor, portraying his home state as a land of opportunity and robust job growth.

But Democrats are aggressively presenting another picture of Texas under Perry as they seek to build a case for why he shouldn't be president.

A website sponsored by the Texas Democratic Party invites viewers to "meet the real Rick Perry" by examining such categories "as top 10 failures" and "leadership scandals." And President Barack Obama's Texas campaign director is seeking personal testimonials from Texans to help expose the governor's "actual record" to American voters.

"It's up to us to make sure he doesn't get to run away from the truth," Hector Nieto, Texas director of Obama for America, said in e-mails to the president's Texas supporters.

The Democratic assault began Aug. 13, the day the Republican governor announced his candidacy, and has included anti-Perry critiques from Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The national committee has distributed nearly a dozen "rapid response" messages to the news media that challenge various aspects of Perry's record, with subject lines such as "The Texas Unmiracle" and "Perry's Texas Miracle is a Mirage."

To be sure, Perry has found a far more receptive audience among Republicans and has overtaken former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the front-runner for the GOP nomination, according to a midweek Gallup Poll. Since he entered the race, Perry has gathered increasing momentum among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents by presenting Texas as an economic success story and assailing Obama for policies that Perry says have plunged the country into an "economic disaster."

A "Meet Rick Perry" entry on Perry's campaign website, rickperry.org, details his "Prosperity Agenda."

"With a strong record of job creation, restrained spending and tax cuts, Rick Perry is a committed conservative with the right vision for creating opportunity and prosperity," the site says.

But Texas Democrats offer a polar-opposite assessment on their Internet version of "Meet Rick Perry." Viewers who access meetrickperry.com can wade through a variety of critical news accounts and a list of Perry's "failures," including his "extravagant" lifestyle in a rental mansion, real estate deals that enabled him to become wealthy while in office and a pattern of favoritism toward political donors.

The compilation largely recycles material that many Texans have seen and heard from Perry's political opponents, including rivals in his last re-election race, in 2010. Perry and his aides have disputed many of the claims as groundless political attacks aimed at distorting his record.

"It's a clear sign that they're nervous about the president's miserable record on the economy and job creation," Perry's spokesman Mark Miner said of the website. Obama "has failed miserably in turning this economy around ... and we expect him to run a very negative campaign."

But Kirsten Gray, spokeswoman for the Texas Democratic Party, said the site is aimed at Americans just now tuning in to Perry and is designed to present an unvarnished depiction of the governor.

The site has attracted 23,000 views since its launch Aug. 13, drawing visitors from 86 countries and all 50 states, Gray said.

The e-mail from Texas' Obama campaign is aimed at giving Democrats additional ammo by soliciting grassroots accounts of Perry's performance in Texas.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat who was a part of a "truth squad" that traveled into swing states during former Gov. George W. Bush's presidential campaign, said discussions are under way in Democratic circles to resurrect a Texas truth squad against Perry's presidential bid.

"I'm going to every swing state there is this year because we have to save the nation from Rick Perry," Burnam said.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294

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