Richmond, Va. — Virginia turned blue in 2008, and if Republicans want to win the presidency next year, they’ll likely have to color it red. In a speech this afternoon, Gov. Rick Perry argued to a convention hall of over one thousand GOP activists that he’s the man to do that, talking up his electability, which his chief rival, Mitt Romney, has denigrated. “We need a nominee who draws a distinct and clear contrast,” he said.
“This campaign is about freedom,” Perry said, and the rest of the major issues, all important, are secondary to that theme. “The voters are getting the message,” he chuckled. “The voters of New York are sure getting that message,” commenting on Bob Turner’s surprise House victory in the Big Apple. “I just think that’s awesome.”
Perry was welcomed to the dais with a rousing standing ovation from nearly the entire room. He bounced from handshake to handshake as he approached the podium, cutting through the crowd with ease in his gray suit and ruby-red tie. Spotting a few tea-party supporters in near the front, he took care to “tip his hat” to “grassroots activists.”
Before Perry took the stage, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell spoke, praising Perry’s record. In recent years, they both served as the top elected strategists for the Republican Governors Association, with Perry as chairman and McDonnell as vice-chairman. McDonnell, beaming as he looked toward Perry, noted that he was “thrilled” to welcome Perry to the capital. “He’s a man of his word,” he told the crowd.
“Governor Perry brings ten years of experience,” McDonnell continued, listing off Perry’s accomplishments in Austin. “He truly created a marvelous state of opportunity in the state of Texas. He knows the power of the American dream.” He then highlighted Perry’s “humble beginnings,” his “storybook marriage,” and his Air Force service.
The audience was buzzing with the notion of Perry, should he win the nomination, tapping McDonnell as his vice-presidential nominee. Scores of Republicans wore pins emblazoned with “Perry-McDonnell,” and happily mused about the possibility as they munched on barbecue pulled pork.
Tucker Martin, a senior McDonnell adviser, tells NRO that the event should not be interpreted as an endorsement by the Virginia governor, but noted that the pair has a “close and warm friendship.” McDonnell and Perry “text, they talk on the phone, they argue over which state has a better job-creation record,” he says.
And on a lighter note, Martin adds, they also discuss college football — McDonnell, of course, is a die-hard Fighting Irish fan, Perry an Aggies booster. Still, “with the state races his focus at the moment, the governor will not be endorsing a candidate until after the November elections,” he says. “And even that’s a maybe.”
Perry’s campaign team was pleased with the reception. Robert Black, Perry’s spokesman, tells NRO that the governor is eager to make his case in swing states. “He’s going to play in every part of the country,” Black says. “In Virginia, it’s the same as in Texas — it’s about the economy and jobs.” Other candidates, he predicted, “will talk about us,” but as Perry crisscrosses the country, he’ll stick to that message, betting it’ll deflect the potshots.