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The Brief: Oct. 3, 2011

Rick Perry, steadying himself after taking a pummeling last week on immigration, has again been knocked off balance.

Gov. Rick Perry during his final speech at The Response at Reliant Stadium on Aug. 6, 2011

The Big Conversation:

Rick Perry, steadying himself after taking a pummeling on immigration, has again been knocked off balance.

Back on the campaign trail in New Hampshire over the weekend, Perry unveiled a more nuanced response to conservative critics who have attacked him for supporting a Texas law that extended in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. On Saturday, Perry, who said at a recent GOP debate that opponents of the tuition break "don't have a heart," defended his record on immigration and said the federal government had forced the state accommodate such students. “Are we going to kick these young people over to the curb and say you cannot have access to college?" Perry said. "Because the fact of the matter is there is no way that they could pay the out-of-state tuition.’’

But on Sunday, a Washington Post report put the governor and his campaign back on the defensive over an uncomfortable issue for virtually any campaign: race. 

The Post reported that Perry, early in his political career, had hosted friends and fellow lawmakers at a West Texas hunting camp known by a name that had been painted on a rock at the camp's entrance: Niggerhead. Several sources said they had seen the name on the rock as recently as the 1990s. Another, a former ranch worker, claimed to have seen it in 2008.

Perry called the word an "offensive name that has no place in the modern world" but said his mother and father had painted over the rock in the early 1980s, soon after Perry's father had leased the land. "This occurred after I paid a visit to the property with a friend and saw the rock with the offensive word," Perry, who later leased the property, wrote in response to two rounds of detailed questions from the Post. "After my visit I called my folks and mentioned it to them, and they painted it over during their next visit.”

On Sunday, Herman Cain, one of Perry's competitors for the Republican nomination, seized on the story. “There isn’t a more vile, negative word than the N-word,” Cain said on Fox News Sunday. “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 camp disputed Cain's — and the story's — claims that the governor had been slow to remove the rock. "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 spokesman Ray Sullivan. "That is why the Perrys took quick action to cover and obscure it."

As the Post, which has since defended the veracity of its reporting, notes, "How, when or whether he dealt with it when he was using the property is less clear and adds a dimension to the emerging biography of Perry."

Culled:

  • While campaigning in New Hampshire over the weekend, Rick Perry suggested that he would consider sending American troops into Mexico to keep cartel-related violence from spilling over into the U.S. “It may require our military in Mexico,” Perry said of the violence in Mexico. The governor's comment drew immediate skepticism. "It’s almost as sensitive as saying U.S. troops should go over the border into Pakistan," Michael O’Hanlon, a defense policy expert with the Brookings Institution, told The Washington Post.
  • A federal panel in San Antonio announced Friday that it would begin drawing interim redistricting maps to keep the March primaries on track, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The panel's maps will take effect if a D.C. federal district court, set to decide on whether the current plans violate minority voting-rights standards, fails to act on time.
  • The New York Times on Saturday reported that repairs to thousands of homes damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008 have been repeatedly slowed by the state of Texas, which has paid out only 10 percent of the $3.1 billion in federal aid that it has received. “Had our department been dealing directly with HUD like we do on millions and millions of dollars every year, and not had to go through this state housing agency up in Austin, we would have been finished and have had all the homes repaired and built two years ago," said David Turkel, the director of the Harris County Community Services Department.
  • The Trib's Brandi Grissom reported over the weekend on the bitter, protracted battle over same-sex health benefits that has divided El Paso, a city that has long prided itself as a Democratic stronghold.

"I don't actually know where [Chris Christie] is on abortion and guns and things like that, but there may be people on the conservative side who have problems with that."Dave Carney, Rick Perry's top political strategist, to The Associated Press on the New Jersey governor, who's said to be seriously considering entering the presidential race

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