Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s indictment makes him the third potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate accused of abusing the power of his office, complicating the party’s search to find someone to take on Democrat Hillary Clinton, if she runs.
Perry, 64, was charged Friday on two felony counts by a Texas grand jury investigating his decision to cut off funding for the state’s Public Integrity Unit, which was examining a cancer research-funding program championed by the governor.
Perry called the counts “outrageous” and made no apologies for his 2013 veto.
Perry made it clear he will finish his term that ends in January and said it was the investigation against him — and not his actions — that amounted to an abuse of power.
“We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country,” Perry told reporters outside his office in the Texas Capitol. “It is outrageous that someone would use political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state’s constitution.”
His legal problems follow continuing investigations involving Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and could bolster the prospects of other Republicans contemplating White House runs, including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
In the party’s wide-open 2016 primary field, governors were viewed by Republican leaders as having an edge because of the low political standing of members of Congress. Now, Christie is facing multiple probes of politically motivated lane closures and traffic jams in September created by his administration. Walker has seen six former associates or aides convicted on charges ranging from doing political work on government time to stealing public funds.
The indictment itself isn’t likely to affect Perry’s presidential ambitions, said Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics in Los Angeles.
“Unless he is actually convicted of something, Perry can blame Democratic game-playing, which could actually help him in a primary,” he said.
Democrats pounced on the latest scandal.
“Remember when Republican governors were arguing that Washington could learn from them? Let’s hope not,” Mo Elleithee, communications director for the Democratic National Committee, said in an e-mail.
Investigations complicate a candidate’s messaging, said Ben LaBolt, the national press secretary for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
“It’s hard enough to succeed when you just have to win over the voters and the media,” said LaBolt, a co-founder of the Democratic communications strategy firm the Incite Agency, which has offices in New York and Washington. “When you add the optical issues that come with a judge, a jury and even the suggestion of corruption, candidates’ chances of winning are greatly diminished.”
Stuart Stevens, a top adviser to Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign whose consulting firm also worked on Christie’s re-election in 2013, said Perry could survive the indictment because of the details of the charges.
“I would imagine that this is one of those cases where public opinion is going to be on Governor Perry’s side pretty quickly,” Stevens said. Voters will judge that Perry was “acting in the public’s best interests,” he said.