Rep. Ron Paul is zeroing in on a 2012 target this week: Gov. Rick Perry, his fellow Texas Republican. In recent weeks, Paul criticized Perry for his gaffe suggesting Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke committed treason, and for talking about Texas seceding from the union. Last week, Paul told the Associated Press that Perry is likely just a "candidate of the week."
But today, Paul's camp really came out swinging. His new campaign ad, released early Tuesday morning in the run-up to Wednesday's debate at the Reagan Library in California, emphasizes the congressman's early support for Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign, in contrast to Perry's support for Al Gore's campaign. "And now, America needs to decide who to trust," the ad says. "Al Gore's Texas cheerleader, or the one who stood with Reagan?"
Perry's campaign hasn't responded directly to Paul's attacks, but in 2007, Perry made it clear he was no Paul fan. "We have to make choices in life, and I made a choice that Ron Paul's not mine for president," he said as he endorsed then-candidate Rudy Giuliani. "Pretty simple for me. I didn't have to study that too deep."
The rising tension means sparks may fly when the two face each other—and the other GOP candidates—on the stage Wednesday in Perry's first debate of the season.
Perry skyrocketed to the top of several national polls since his late entrance to the GOP race, spurring pundits to call him the new front-runner. But Paul's campaign wants to make sure Republicans don't get "caught up in the glitz," says campaign chairman Jesse Benton.
Benton points to Perry's history of raising taxes, and the fact that Texas debt has increased since Perry took office as indications that Paul is the more steadfast option. "You have Americans across the country clamoring for constitutional conservatism, for balanced budgets, for vetoing legislation that is not in adherence with the Constitution, and for our return to sound money," Benton says, adding that these are ideas Paul has long advocated. "Rick Perry is parroting a lot of that rhetoric, and that's all well and good, but we want a president that will actually follow through."
Benton says the day before the Reagan Library debate is also the perfect time to tout Paul's Reagan bona fides, in contrast with Perry and all the other candidates. Paul was a leader in Texas for Reagan's campaign as early as 1976, Benton adds, at a time "when people were saying things about Reagan much like they're saying about Ron right now—that he's outside the mainstream and unelectable," Benton says. Reagan lost the primary in 1976, but won in 1980. "We plan to prove that wrong, just like Reagan proved everybody wrong."