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How Will Perry's Indictment Play Among GOP Primary Voters?

Ben Philpott/KUT
Perry speaking before a crowd yesterday at the South Carolina Military Museum in Columbia.

Former Gov. Rick Perry wrapped up his first 2016 presidential campaign swing yesterday with a couple of stops in South Carolina.

The crowds he drew throughout the trip were eager to hear his ideas for border security and the economy, but one looming issue remained undiscussed: his felony indictment in his home state.

Some people might criticize a stump speech as redundant. But, while the press covering a candidate hears the same speech over and over again, it’s brand new for the crowds that come out. And successful candidates figure out what’s working best in a speech, and then use it over and over again.

But one thing you’re probably never going to hear in a Rick Perry stump speech is the mention of the felony indictment hanging over his head back in Texas, which allegedly stems from Perry’s threat to veto the budget for a state corruption unit run out of the Travis County District Attorney’s office after that District Attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested for drunk driving. The indictment argues Perry leveraged his office to force, if not strongly suggest, her resignation to keep the unit in Travis County.

While the story has been in and out of the headlines in Texas since the indictments on abuse of power charges came down last summer, the rest of the country has been less connected to what’s going on.

“Most people who don’t even know what went on yesterday in the news, don’t even remember this,” says Jeane Remley from Swansea, South Carolina. She came out to hear Perry speak in Columbia on Monday. She had heard about case – enough to have formed an opinion that Perry is probably innocent – but not a complete understanding of the case.

“If I am correct, Gov. Perry was the one who was correct, the federal government was wrong,” she says. “And I’d like to see him win the case.”

It should be noted, the indictment is in state court, not federal.

Joe Gawronsky is from the town of Blythewood. He knew a good bit more about the case, including the players involved and why Perry says he vetoed the money. He believes voters should be aware of what’s happened, but he also thinks Perry did what he needed to do.

“I think when you’re chief executive of an organization, you’re responsible for what the organization does and what it looks like,” Gawronsky says. “And if you get somebody who’s not performing to your standards you need to do something about it.”

Of course, you don’t need to know what happened to have an opinion about how an indictment could, or even should, affect a presidential candidate. Robert Huddleston is from Mount Pleasant and came to see Perry speak on the USS Yorktown, a World War II-era aircraft carrier.

“When Warren Bennis helped co-write ‘In Search of Excellence,’ when they surveyed 500 CEOs all over the country, the one universal quality of an executive was trust and integrity,” Huddleston says. “And that applies to our Presidential candidates.”

He says, if Perry has a real legal problem, that’s going to be a real problem for his campaign, but says he believes he’s innocent until proven guilty.

For his part, Perry has cast the indictments against him as politically-motivated, and his legal team continues to work for a dismissal before a trial starts. A three-judge panel from a state appeals court will consider that request later this year, a panel that includes one of Perry's former lawyers.  His campaign team continues to hope a dismissal comes before the first debate, where you can bet the other GOP candidates will be eager to talk about it — that is, if Perry moves up in the polls.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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