WASHINGTON — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now at single-digit lows in polls after his high-flying start on the presidential campaign trail, has performed so badly on the national stage that there's talk back home _especially from Democrats — that he's embarrassing Texas.
"When he announced on Aug. 13th, I said, 'He's not ready for prime time,'" said former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas. "It's somewhat embarrassing, but it reflects he was never ready to be a presidential candidate. It doesn't reflect on him being governor of Texas."
Texas Democratic consultant Harold Cook said it bluntly: "He has embarrassed himself and his state. Yes, he makes Texas look bad. But there's a new national knowledge as to how Perry has been running the state."
In Austin, James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, said that "you are seeing a little bit of political entrepreneurship that you wouldn't otherwise see," as Perry's rivals seek to exploit his growing weakness.
He pointed to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican and sometime Perry ally. Straus recently started speaking out against higher education reforms backed by Perry as well as the governor's touting of the state's Enterprise Fund as a way to create jobs. The Enterprise Fund helps lure companies to locate in Texas by giving them subsidies.
"I'm not sure that the Enterprise Fund is what it needs to be to be competitive going forward," Straus told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board earlier this month. "I think not having a state income tax has been a lot more powerful incentive than the Enterprise Fund."
Henson said that officials and business leaders would be reluctant to voice negative feelings about Perry, who has been governor nearly 11 years, when he returns to being governor full time.
"It's a matter of fear and business" he said.
After several shaky debates, Perry cratered in a televised debate performance on Nov. 9, where for 53 seconds he couldn't remember all three of the agencies he would eliminate as president.
"I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the ... what's the third one there? Let's see." Eventually, he said "Oops," and later in the debate weighed in with the name — the Department of Energy.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said that Perry's brain freeze was "the most devastating moment of any modern primary debate."
According to RealClearPolitics.org, Perry now has an average poll rating of 8.2 percent in five recent national polls, down from his front-runner position in August and September when he was at 30 percent or higher and led the GOP field by as much as 15 points.
One independent Austin political operative who's close to many top Texas Republicans said flatly: "His political career is over." However, that person would not speak for attribution because he feared fallout from the governor, whose current term doesn't end until 2014.
"Everybody from Texas has pride and stature," he said. "He looked like an absolute reject; it's embarrassing. Everybody's embarrassed as a Texan."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
For more McClatchy politics coverage visit Planet Washington