Political observers have noted that Jon Huntsman is likely to take some flack from conservatives for having served as President Obama’s Ambassador to China until recently. But Huntsman isn’t the only prospective GOP candidate who has worked for a prominent Democratic politician in years past.
Rick Perry, who entered the Texas legislature as a Democrat in 1984, served as Al Gore’s Texas Campaign Chairman in the 1988 presidential campaign. Soon after the campaign, Perry switched parties and was elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner as a Republican in 1990. “Going through that (Gore experience) was part of what started me through the process of changing parties in 1989,” Perry later said. “I came to my senses.”
At a 1999 campaign event during his successful run for Texas Governor, a Dallas Morning News reporter asked Perry about his previous work for Al Gore. “I certainly got religion,” Perry said. “I think he’s gone to hell.” You can listen to an audio recording of the exchange here.
And while Gore was a moderate at the time on some issues (abortion, gun control, prayer in schools), he was already a committed environmentalist. 11 years before Perry chaired Gore’s presidential campaign in Texas, in 1976, Gore held the first Congressional hearings on climate change. Gore’s reputation on environmental issues was so solidified by 1988 that the first President Bush took to the habit of calling him ozone man.
Rick Perry prides himself on his anti-environmental credentials as Texas Governor. But if and when he decides to run for President, whether it is in the next few weeks or in 2016, he’ll undoubtedly have to explain all of this to the Republican base.
Update — The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Governor Perry has likely already decided he’s running:
A Republican campaign veteran tells us that Texas Governor Rick Perry has decided to run for President, though the official word from Team Perry is still a definite maybe.
Interestingly, Perry’s apparent rationale for entering the race has to do with Romney’s flip-flop on climate change:
Our normally reliable Republican source reports that Mr. Perry has surveyed the field and decided to get in the race later this summer, perhaps around the time of the national prayer meeting that Mr. Perry is hosting on August 6 at a Houston football stadium. Our source also reports that Mr. Perry is aiming to compete in the Iowa Straw Poll, even though it occurs just a week later, on August 13. The thinking is that apparent front-runner Mitt Romney “does not reflect the Republican Party” and is therefore vulnerable to a credible challenge from the right, especially after Mr. Romney’s recent squishy remarks on global warming.
Update 2 — AmericaBlog’s Matt Ortega calls this “a potential hiccup in a Perry bid for the GOP nomination.”
Update 3 — Jed Lewison at Daily Kos has now picked this up.
Update 4 — Responding to questions from Iowans and attacks from Ron Paul, Rick Perry and his campaign staff are now trying to explain this away:
In an interview with WHO Radio in Iowa on Monday, Perry defended his past support of Al Gore:
“This was Al Gore before he invented the Internet and got to be Mr. Global Warming,” Perry said. Growing up in rural Texas, he said, “I never met a Republican until I was 25. … In 1988 when you looked at the candidates, Al Gore was the most conservative candidate that was out there.” He pointed to Gore’s support for missile defense.
Perry’s campaign also tried to spin this away in an email to Politico:
Now, Perry’s camp is again emphasizing the politicians’ differences, and campaign spokesman Mark Miner says that Perry was aware of Gore’s climate platform but didn’t subscribe to it. “The governor has always been a conservative and didn’t agree with Al Gore on every issue, global warming being one of them,” Miner said in an email to POLITICO.
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