Rick Perry's day began with these words, on the front of The Washington Post:
In the early years of his political career, Rick Perry began hosting fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters at his family’s secluded West Texas hunting camp, a place known by the name painted in block letters across a large, flat rock standing upright at its gated entrance.
“Niggerhead,” it read.
What follows is a long investigative piece by Stephanie McCrummen on the history of the Perrys' hunting property and its offensive name, which Perry says he and his father quickly changed after they began using the property in the early 1980s.
There is no definitive account of when the rock first appeared on the property. In an earlier time, the name on the rock was often given to mountains and creeks and rock outcroppings across the country. Over the years, civil rights groups and government agencies have had some success changing those and other racially offensive names that dotted the nation’s maps.
But the name of this particular parcel did not change for years after it became associated with Rick Perry, first as a private citizen, then as a state official and finally as Texas governor. Some locals still call it that. As recently as this summer, the slablike rock — lying flat, the name still faintly visible beneath a coat of white paint — remained by the gated entrance to the camp.
And others who recall hunting and vacationing with Perry at this point don't recall him having the offensive word painted over as promptly as he claims.
Some who had watched Perry’s political ascent recalled their reaction to the name on the rock and their worry that it could become a political liability for Perry.
“I remember the first time I went through that pasture and saw that,” said Ronnie Brooks, a retired game warden who began working in the region in 1981 and who said he guided three or four turkey shoots for Rick Perry when Perry was a state legislator between 1985 and 1990. “. . . It kind of offended me, truthfully.”
Brooks, who said he holds Perry “in the highest esteem,” said that at some point after Perry began bringing lawmakers to the camp, the rock was turned over. Brooks could not recall exactly when. He said he did not know who turned the rock over.
Another local who visited the property with Perry and the legislators in those years recalled seeing the rock with the name clearly visible.
“I thought, ‘This is going to embarrass Rick some day,’ ” said this person, who did not want to be named, fearing negative consequences from speaking on the subject.
The article could scare off some centrist Republicans already concerned that Perry is too extreme a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Taegan Goddard, publisher of Political Wire, tweeted the Post story this morning with the simple message, "And with this story, Rick Perry loses the Establishment Republicans."
The story comes as Perry, who was supposed to be the dangerous gunslinger in the Republican field, is finding himself on the ropes. Mitt Romney, of all people, has been mercilessly "grinding" away at Perry, writes Jill Lawrence at The Daily Beast. The problem could be, primarily, money, or the temporary lack of it.
It’s an understatement to say it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Perry is the candidate with the 10-election winning streak, self-confidence that some past opponents say borders on arrogance, and aggressive campaign tactics that trounced Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in last year’s gubernatorial primary. Romney is the one with the blue-state background, substantial wealth, and two Harvard degrees, not to mention a résumé burdened with Romneycare, policy flip-flops, and some major political losses.
Paul Burka, a Texas Monthly writer who has long covered Perry, says that so far “he’s certainly not the guy that we’ve seen in Texas. He doesn’t have the same fire or the same confidence that he had in Texas.” Burka wonders if a slow recovery from July 1 back surgery has thrown Perry off his game, and, like Mackowiak, he predicts the governor will bounce back to form. “When he gets in a race, he’s a killer. He just destroyed Kay Bailey Hutchison. They will sooner, if not later, just launch all these attacks on Romney.”
Update 11:23 a.m.: The Perry campaign is pushing back on the Post's story, saying many of the eyewitness accounts about the offensively named rock as "incorrect, inconsistent, and anonymous." This, meanwhile, is what has them worried: Herman Cain, the one black candidate in the Republican primary field and a darling of the Tea Party movement, smacked the Perry campaign after The Post's story came out, calling Perry "just plain insensitive."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.