Mitt Romney has a traveling band of lookalike sons. Jon Huntsman has his ever-tweeting daughters. The latest addition to this political kids club is Rick Perry’s 28-year-old son Griffin, who has propelled himself into the headlines — and injected some much-needed energy into his father’s decidedly downtrodden candidacy — with his Twitter missives from the campaign trail.
He has played attack dog to his father’s opponents, poking fun at former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s sweater vests and sniping that Romney is a “bottom-tier job creator.”
“Ron Paul doesn’t remember saying those crazy things at the debate, bc he took off his aluminum hat,” @griffperry tweeted in late December. “Mitt Romney knows how to lead … Lead people straight out the door with a pink slip,” he tweeted Tuesday.
And Griffin has offered up his own brand of humor, suggesting that Republican candidates have a shooting contest in Iowa to win gun owners’ support, and calling for Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow to join his father’s ticket with “Chuck Norris as secretary of defense.”
Interviewed at the Perry campaign’s Austin headquarters days before rejoining his father in South Carolina, Griffin said he wants to act as his father’s surrogate on the campaign trail “to do whatever I can do to help Dad get elected.”
But he stressed that the Twitter feed is his own. It often devolves into college football talk, the Vanderbilt grad joked, and he purposely chose the Twitter handle “@griffperry” instead of “@griffinperry” because it took the media “a few months to figure out if it was really me.”
But Griffin, who was forced — via federal election regulations, his small-government parents are quick to point out — to quit his Dallas investment banking job to join his father on the campaign trail, doesn’t underestimate the power of a candidate’s kid with a social media presence.
“You can say things in jest and have a little fun and deliver it a little different, and it seems to get more attention,” he said. “Dad’s been vetted pretty hard. If it takes a kid to draw some attention to some things, then so be it.”
As a recent college graduate, Griffin was a leading force behind the governor’s foray into Facebook during his 2006 re-election bid. Griffin calls it “humanizing” — a way to feed the media’s bottomless appetite for campaign minutiae and details about the candidates’ families.
It’s been a big year for candidates’ kids — and for pushing the social media envelope. Though Griffin hasn’t met the three Huntsman daughters who have taken this strategy to new heights with their @Jon2012Girls Tweets and their viral videos, he gave them a friendly shout-out on Twitter last month. He hasn’t connected personally with the five Romney sons either, though he once sat next to Tagg Romney, the GOP front-runner’s oldest son, at a debate.
Griffin, who has hit the trail in several early primary states, said campaigning for a parent is no small decision because it opens the child up to public scrutiny. (His younger sister Sydney has chosen to be less visible on the trail, he said.)
Griffin describes himself as having “calluses” to such criticism. He took to Twitter to defend his father’s job creation record, brandishing the hashtag “#perryantisocialist.” He offered an Iowa prophecy, predicting that any candidate to finish in the top three there would have a shot at the Republican nomination. (His father finished fifth.)
And he scolded the media for the attention reporters gave to the now-infamous “oops” debate, where the Texas governor couldn’t name the third agency he wanted to shutter. “Dear #MSM please read John 8:7 before attacking dad about forgetting something,” he tweeted the day after the debate.
If he sometimes sounds like a politician, Griffin said, it’s because he has been around it his whole life; he won’t rule out a run for office someday, “if it was okay with my wife.”
In a way, the Texas governor-turned-presidential contender took a cue from Griffin when he used Twitter, on a frigid run the morning after the Iowa caucuses, to announce that he would forge ahead to South Carolina. Griffin wasn’t on that run.
“I don’t run in 30-degree weather and 40-mile-per-hour winds,” he said, giving that special eye-roll kids reserve for their parents.