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Rick Perry’s silence on the hunting camp story (and whether it will work)

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In the immediate aftermath of the Washington Post story about a racial epithet marking a hunting camp owned by Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s family, his presidential campaign put out a statement insisting that “a number of claims made in the story are incorrect, inconsistent, and anonymous.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 20: Texas Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry is trying to put a controversy over a hunting camp to rest. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

And, when businessman Herman Cain denounced Perry as “plain insensitive” during appearances on the Sunday chat shows, the governor’s campaign quickly responded — arguing that “Mr. Cain is wrong about the Perry family’s quick action to eliminate the word on the rock, but is right the word written by others long ago is insensitive and offensive.”

After that flurry of activity, the Perry campaign has gone quiet on the hunting camp story, almost certainly hoping that it will be eclipsed by other news events — an announcement of some sort from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, perhaps? — and knocked off the cable networks and media websites.

It’s a smart strategy but one that may not work.

From Perry’s perspective there’s nothing to be gained from making any further comments about the matter because to do so would only give the story more life and extend its stay atop the news.

But, Perry also knows that he can’t let attacks against him on the issue go unanswered, which is why his campaign was so quick to put out a response to Cain’s comments.

No other Republican presidential candidate has said anything about Perry’s hunting camp to date. Perry has to hope it stays that way. There’s reason to believe it won’t, however.

Why? Because politics is like sports. When a quarterback has a bad leg, the defense goes after it — seeking to exploit that weakness to their advantage.

Perry is without question a weakened candidate at the moment — stung by the negative publicity surrounding his performances in a series of September debates and the controversy created by the hunting camp story.

Already today former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who is black, has sounded off on the hunting camp, saying that it’s “very troubling on some many levels, for so many reasons” in an interview with Time magazine.

And, while none of Perry’s rivals — other than Cain — have issued a statement on the matter, several campaigns indicated that their candidate could well comment on it if asked directly in an interview.

All that it would take is for one of the other people running for president to pile on to Perry for the story to re-develop in a way that would almost certainly force the governor to say something in his own right — to date his campaign has done the talking — about the hunting camp.

(Worth noting: There is danger in attacking Perry on the issue. Conservatives have largely leapt to his defense and attacked the Post; siding with the mainstream media in a story as white-hot as this one isn’t necessarily a recipe for political success.)

Even if none of Perry’s opponents hit him on the issue this week, he’s still not likely to escape addressing it directly since the Post is co-sponsoring a presidential debate with Bloomberg News next week in New Hampshire where the story is sure to come up.

Perry’s silent strategy today is the right one. But it may be tough for him to stick to it — especially if any of his rivals decide to address the hunting camp story over the next 48 to 72 hours.

© The Washington Post Company