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Perry's Taxpayer-Funded Home Could Pose Political Hazard

By Scott Conroy - July 12, 2011

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"When Texas has a governor who is more interested in his own house -- his own future -- than our schoolhouses, which are our future, then you know he's been governor too long," White said in the ad.

But Perry and White never squared off in a debate, and the Democrat was unable to get much traction on the issue. After withstanding a brief period of tightening polls, Perry went on to defeat White by a comfortable 13-point margin.

"That was one of the several negative campaign messages that the White campaign threw out there, and it didn't seem to take, but they also didn't seem to sustain it either," Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, told RCP. "For it to even have a chance of taking, you have to connect it to a narrative and a more substantial frame."

In the context of a national Republican campaign in which ideological purity -- in candidates' public and private lives -- could be placed at a premium leading up to the Iowa caucuses and beyond, Perry may have a more difficult narrative to contend with than the one that White presented.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who figures to be a principal GOP rival to Perry (should he enter the race), learned the perils of intense national scrutiny into her personal finances recently when it was revealed that she had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds in farm subsidies and payments to her husband's mental health clinic.

And when Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was recently weighing a presidential run that he ultimately decided against, he was scrutinized for his use of state-owned airplanes for political trips.

On the other end of the personal frugality spectrum, Mike Huckabee won praise among fiscal conservatives during his 2008 presidential run for his decision to live in a mobile home for 16 months in 2000 while the Arkansas governor's mansion was being renovated.

During a late 2007 fundraising appearance in Austin, Huckabee suggested that Perry, who had just recently moved into the rental home where he still resides, should instead follow his own lead and find a nice trailer to call home. Perry, who at the time was a prominent supporter of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- one of Huckabee's rivals for the GOP nomination -- wasn't having any of it. "Texas ain't Arkansas," Perry said.

Quips like these might have worked well for the Rick Perry of 2007 -- a proud Texan who purported not to have any national ambitions. But in the context of a Republican primary fight conducted amid a fiscal crisis, he may have to come up with a justification beyond his home state's ingrained sense of preeminence.

"A lot of the stuff that he got away with in Texas, you could only get away with as governor of Texas," a national Republican political operative with experience in Texas politics told RCP. "The arrogance argument is going to hurt him. He plays a good ol' boy, but he has a fancy-ass house in a fancy neighborhood."

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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