Republicans were practically tripping over themselves this week to weigh in on Gov. Rick Perry’s call for more budget cuts, lower taxes and restrictions on government growth.
So were the Democrats.
The opposition sees Perry as wounded and unpopular, and the more he becomes an issue in the 2012 elections, the happier they are. He has become their favorite whipping post.
It is a far cry from 2010, when Perry, riding the Tea Party wave, seemed politically invincible.
But then he presided over a 2011 legislative session that ushered in some of the deepest budget cuts that Texas lawmakers have ever enacted. And his failed presidential race, a bonanza for the comedy writers at Saturday Night Live — made Perry a laughing stock as far as many Democrats see it.
“I’ve always been quick to give Rick Perry credit where credit is due. He obviously has some skills,” said longtime Democratic strategist Harold Cook. “But he fell off a cliff and went splat. How revered is this guy supposed to be?”
Now when Perry makes a big splash, the Democrats use it — often with unflattering images of him — as fodder for fundraising and political talking points.
Former Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner of Arlington, trying to regain a seat in the Legislature, blasted out an email before Perry even took to the stage in Houston to unveil his “Texas Budget Compact” this week.
“Texans don’t deserve more budget gimmicks and trickery from Rick Perry and Tea Party Republicans,’’ he wrote.
Turner ended the email with a fundraising solicitation.
“The presidential campaign really hurt him,” Turner said in an interview. “Even if they weren’t fans two years ago, there is a sharpness to the criticism that I hear now.”
With the primaries still weeks away, it’s far too soon to gauge the climate of the November elections, and what impact Perry will have then.
Democrats clearly aren’t expecting Perry’s flubs and his latest budget gambit to spark a dramatic reversal in their statewide fortunes. Texas is, after all, still the reddest of the big red states.
But Democratic operatives say blowback from the cuts in public education and the collapse of the state-federal Women’s Health Program, among other items, has galvanized their voters in a way that would have seemed unimaginable in 2010.
That could play a role in the handful of legislative swing seats up for grabs this year.
Robert Jones runs Annie’s List, the PAC that tries to get Democratic women elected to the Texas Legislature. He said two years ago the Republicans’ strong showing with women voters — with Perry at the top of the ticket — helped bring about the largest GOP House majority ever.
Since then Perry has moved further to the right on abortion, opposing it now even in cases of rape and incest. And his call for more budget cuts and the fight over women’s health care has made the governor a repeat target of the group’s ire.
“He really has scared people into action who might have been on the sidelines before,” Jones said. “I think every opportunity we have to show what Rick Perry and the Republicans stand for, we’re going to take it.”