Rivals Have Little to Say So Far About Perry's N-Word Camp

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The revelation that Rick Perry had a hunting camp on some Texas property once called "Niggerhead"--and that he might not have painted over the a rock bearing the name for years, maybe decades--will cost him more with the Republican party's elites than it will with its voters. Among Perry's rivals for the presidential nomination, so far only Herman Cain has commented on the name: "For him to leave it there as long as he did, until before, I hear, they finally painted over it, is just plain insensitive to a lot of black people in this country," Cain said on Fox News Sunday, according to The Washington Post. The other candidates haven't commented, even though it's a juicy revelation less than 100 days before the Iowa caucuses. The closest the other campaigns seem to have come is when Saul Anuzis, who's on the Republican National Committee and has endorsed Mitt Romney, told Politico's Reid J. Epstein that the story was "embarrassing" but that "any 'cover up' is potentially more dangerous politically than the fact the camp had an offensive name at some time in the past." And as the Los Angeles TimesRobin Abcarian reports that over the weekend, voters in New Hampshire--northerners less likely to give Perry a pass because "things are different in the South"--were far more fixated on Perry's position on illegal immigration.

Locals first told The Post and again in a follow-up by The New York Times's Richard A. Oppel Jr. that the N-word name made them uneasy: "I thought, 'This is going to embarrass Rick some day'" and "It kind of offended me, truthfully." But conservative bloggers are defending Perry. Radio host Hugh Hewitt calls the story "drive-by slander" and says the press never investigates the racist pasts of Democrats. RedState's Erick Erickson accuses the Post reporter, Stephanie McCrummen, of having "a history of fanning racial flames out of context."
The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky writes that there's no way that Perry's opponents will want to be tied to the PC police. "Think about the conversations that must have gone on in Mitt Romney's camp, or in Rick Santorum's," Tomasky writes. "It's a charge that emanates from the liberal media, and the last thing in the world, and I mean the very last thing, a candidate chasing Republican primary votes wants to do is sound like that. It’s a dead certainty that we won't hear another peep about this story from them."
But there are plenty conservatives who aren't campaigning for votes who think the story is a problem for Perry. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, said, "It shows such an extraordinary racial insensitivity that I think it's disqualifying, and I would say that of anybody that was running in this race -- if what the Washington Post is saying is true." But NBC News' First Read says the story "hurts Perry in the larger 'is he electable?' narrative." Commentary's Jonathan S. Tobin agrees, even though it's disputed when, exactly, the Perrys painted over the sign:
Yet no matter which side of this dispute you choose to believe, it looks bad. Even if one takes Perry at his word about his actions, his family’s association with a relic of his state's history of racism ought to leave everyone with a bad taste even in their mouths. Considering that he is running for the chance to unseat the country’s first African-American president, the story is an appalling distraction from the issues that can only serve to aid an otherwise faltering Obama re-election campaign.

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