Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign spent Sunday deflecting scrutiny of a report in The Washington Post detailing a West Texas hunting camp he once leased with his father that includes a racial epithet in its name.
It is the latest in a series of controversies the candidate has contended with in recent weeks as he seeks to retain the front-runner status he quickly claimed after entering the race seven weeks ago. Perry created a stir Saturday when he told a crowd of New Hampshire Republicans that he would consider sending U.S. troops into Mexico to combat drug violence there.
Sunday’s story detailed Perry’s association with a property known as “Niggerhead,” a name that was painted in block letters across a large rock flanking the property’s entrance. Perry has called the name “offensive” and said his father painted over the word shortly after leasing the land. That account differs from the recollections of seven people cited in the story, and it remains unclear when or whether Perry dealt with the name while using the camp.
One of Perry’s rivals for the GOP nomination, former Godfather’s Pizza executive Herman Cain, criticized Perry in appearances on “Fox News Sunday” and ABC’s “This Week” as tolerating the sign on a property he used. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton called for Perry to explain more fully his relationship to the property or bow out of the presidential race.
“There isn’t a more vile, negative word than the n-word,” Cain said on Fox. “And for him to leave it there as long as he did before he painted over it, it’s just plain insensitive to a lot of black people in this country.”
The Perry campaign put out several statements seeking to control the damage and push back against Cain’s remarks.
“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,” said Ray Sullivan, communications director for Perry’s campaign. “That is why the Perrys took quick action to cover and obscure it.”
Perry has been dogged of late by uneven debate performances; outmuscled by the better-funded operation of his chief rival for the nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney; and barraged with questions about whether some of his more controversial statements hinder his electability in a potential matchup against President Obama.
Perry’s remark Saturday about possibly putting U.S. troops in Mexico was quickly criticized by foreign-policy experts. They said sending forces into Mexico would be unacceptable to the Mexican people, who partly blame the United States for their drug crisis because of U.S. consumption of illegal drugs and its failure to control the flow of guns across the border.
In New Hampshire, Perry offered punchier answers on immigration and Social Security than those he gave during three recently televised debates. He has come under fire from conservatives for supporting the Texas Dream Act, which grants in-state tuition to some illegal immigrants, and for not supporting the construction of a fence along the country’s entire southern border. And he has been criticized by Romney and others over his statements about Social Security, which he has described as a “monstrous lie.”
Over the weekend, Perry said that while the country must brace for a difficult conversation about reining in the cost of Social Security, he has no plans as president to cut into the benefits of current seniors or those near the age of retirement.
On immigration, Perry touted his stand against issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, his support of a requirement that voters present a picture identification before they can cast ballots, and his support for a “sanctuary cities” bill in Texas that would freeze state funding to local governments that bar law enforcement from inquiring about the legal status of detainees.
“No one up there on that stage has a stronger record than I do when it comes to illegal immigration,” Perry told a rain-soaked crowd in Manchester on Saturday.