The Big Conversation:
Ahead of what could be his final days on the campaign trail, the bad news is piling up for Rick Perry.
On Saturday, a group of influential evangelical Christians, meeting in Texas to consolidate opposition to Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, voted overwhelmingly to support the candidacy of Rick Santorum.
Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council and a spokesman for the group that assembled in Texas, said in a conference call that the decision to back Santorum — who rode a wave of evangelical support to a strong second-place finish in Iowa on Jan. 3 — was reached after three rounds of voting and a "passionate time of discussion," the Tribune's Jay Root reported.
The vote represented a significant reversal of fortune for Perry, who in August, at the ranch of mega donor James Leininger, attempted to woo a group of evangelical leaders that included Perkins. At the time, Perry appeared most capable of challenging Romney.
But as Perkins said Saturday of Perry, “There was some concern because of kind of the stumbles that he had getting into the race."
News of the Santorum endorsement came a day after a federal judge barred Perry's name from appearing on the Virginia primary ballot. On Sunday, Perry's lawyers appealed the ruling.
Perry also faced a less direct setback Sunday evening, when Jon Huntsman announced that he'll be leaving the presidential race and backing Romney.
"Jon Huntsman is proud of the campaign he ran and the message of restoring trust in Washington," a campaign official told Politico. "He didn’t want to stand in the way of the candidate most likely to beat Barack Obama and turn the economy around. That’s Mitt Romney." (Politico also quotes unnamed sources affiliated with the Huntsman campaign who call the withdrawal a "family decision" and say the candidate had virtually no money heading into Saturday's South Carolina primary.)
Though Huntsman had little support in polls outside of New Hampshire, where he finished in third place last week, his departure, as FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver notes, should provide Romney with a helpful boost — making it that much harder for any of the Romney alternatives to gain traction.
- Rick Perry on Sunday accused the Obama administration of using "over-the-top rhetoric" and showing "disdain for the military" in its criticism of four Marines who were videotaped urinating on corpses in Afghanistan. "Obviously, 18-, 19-year-olds make stupid mistakes all too often, and that's what's occurred here," Perry said on CNN. The governor's comments put him at odds with U.S. Sen. John McCain, who said the video hurts the Marines' "reputation and their image."
- Ron Paul returned to the campaign trail on Sunday with what his campaign had teased as a "game-changing" endorsement: that of state Sen. Tom Davis, a popular Tea Party Republican who served as chief of staff to former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. Though the congressman's campaign has said the endorsement will kick off an aggressive week of campaigning for Paul, the candidate has faced scrutiny lately for the amount of time he has spent off the trail.
- The Associated Press reports today that Ron Paul has spent large sums on first-class airfare as a congressman, cutting against his support for massive cuts to federal spending. Paul's staff says he has bought the more expensive seats because they're often refundable and more flexible with his schedule, but an AP review found that the tickets were often purchased well in advance and that few schedule changes were ever made.
"Moses, he tried to talk God out of making him go lead the people. He wasn’t a good speaker. Now, from time to time I can relate to that." — Rick Perry on Sunday to a crowd at the South Carolina Faith and Freedom Coalition prayer breakfast
(photo by: Bob Daemmrich)