Perry's support in Texas has eroded, according to survey

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry's ill-fated bid for the presidency has apparently eroded his political base back home, dropping his Texas approval rating to a new low and raising doubts about his chances of victory if he seeks re-election in two years, according to a newly released poll conducted for the Star-Telegram and other major newspapers.

Nearly half of respondents believe that Perry's five-month campaign hurt the state's image, and a majority voiced disapproval of a possible Perry re-election bid, according to the poll.

"He is clearly weakened," poll director Mickey Blum said. "There is a real sense of lost confidence, and that can't help him."

The survey, released Wednesday, was the first to gauge the impact of Perry's presidential quest on his political stature as Texas' longest-serving governor. Perry, who has been in office 11 years, dropped out of the presidential race two days before Saturday's South Carolina primary after he could not revive his candidacy.

Touting his conservative credentials and record of economic success in Texas, Perry jumped into the race in mid-August and rocketed to the top of the polls. But he began to falter after poor debate performances and other setbacks, and he came in fifth in the Iowa caucuses. He was running in single digits in pre-election polls in South Carolina before he withdrew.

He ultimately threw his support to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Perry's job approval rating stands at 40 percent among Texas adults and 42 percent among registered voters, the lowest of his gubernatorial career, according to the survey by Blum & Weprin Associates. Perry's previous low was 44 percent among registered voters in September 2010, Blum said.

Blum said there is "no question" that Perry's troubled presidential bid contributed to the downturn, adding that Perry "didn't do himself any favors at home" by running for the nation's highest office.

"There were an awful lot of people who said he made the state look bad," she said.

Moreover, 53 percent of Texas adults and 56 percent of registered voters said Perry should not seek a fourth term in 2014. Blum said resistance to a possible re-election bid was notably high among older, wealthier and better-educated voters who typically support the governor.

Among Republicans overall, 50 percent would favor a Perry re-election bid and 40 percent would oppose it.

But Perry communications director Ray Sullivan said the governor "remains strongly and conservatively at the helm of Texas state government and may well run for re-election in 2014."

"He may also run for president again in 2016, especially if President [Barack] Obama somehow wins a second term. Many Republican presidential nominees over the past five decades won the nomination on their second or third attempt. Gov. Perry leads based on his conservative philosophy and what is best for Texas jobs and quality of life, not poll numbers."

Sullivan also said Perry's campaign themes of job creation and fiscal responsibility "reflect positively on Texas citizens, communities and employers."

Sullivan first signaled the possibility of another run for governor or president shortly after Perry withdrew from the race Jan. 19.

The telephone survey of 806 Texas adults, including 669 registered voters, was conducted from Saturday through Tuesday, within a week of Perry's exit. The poll's margins of error are 3.5 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively.

Blum said she was struck by how Perry's approval ratings have fallen since January 2011, when they were 50 percent among all adults and 51 percent among registered voters. The latest poll reflects drops of 10 percentage points among all adults and 9 percentage points among registered voters over the past year.

Approval among Republicans has dropped from 73 percent to 60 percent since January 2011, the pollsters said. Among independents, who could be crucial in the next gubernatorial race, his approval rating has fallen from 46 percent to 29 percent. Democrats' sentiments have barely changed, from 27 percent to 25 percent.

"What may be more damaging to Perry's approval rating and to his legacy in the minds of Texans is that many believe the Governor's presidential run has hurt the image of the state," the pollsters said in a summary of their findings.

Forty-five percent of respondents said the presidential campaign made Texas' image worse, with 20 percent saying a "lot worse"; 17 percent said it improved the state's image; and 34 percent said it had no effect.

Perry was often lampooned on late-night TV, particularly after his "oops" moment in a debate, when he forgot one of the three federal agencies he would eliminate as president. The stumble was widely viewed as one of the worst gaffes in presidential debate history. Perry performed better later in the campaign but never regained momentum.

Among those who applauded Perry's entry on the national stage was Cristy Blackburn of Watauga, who said his campaign strengthened her already favorable view of the Republican governor.

"How brave of him to step up at a time when America is having a horrible time with this economy. It made me admire him even more," she said. "I was saddened when he dropped out."

Blackburn said she believes that Perry has "done a really good job" for Texas and expressed hope that he will run for re-election.

But Lynnell Brawner of Granbury, a retired teacher who generally votes Democratic, shares the view that Perry's campaign was bad PR for Texas.

"I thought he was a disaster," she said. "I didn't think it reflected well on our state."

In other findings, the survey showed little change in Obama's Texas approval rating over the past two years. Among all Texas adults, 43 percent approve of the president's performance and 47 disapprove. Among registered voters, 41 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove.

The survey also suggests that Gingrich may have an edge over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney among Texans, although many said they are unsure about both candidates.

Neither has high favorability ratings.

Among all Texans, 34 percent had a favorable opinion of Gingrich, compared with 37 percent unfavorable.

Twenty-eight percent had a favorable opinion of Romney, compared with 39 percent unfavorable.

The other papers sponsoring the poll were The Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News and the Austin American-Statesman.

To read more, visit www.star-telegram.com.