4:31 pm Nov. 18, 20112
Before Texas Governor Rick Perry received an award at the Federal Law Enforcement Foundation luncheon this afternoon, the Police Pipe and Drums of Bergen County marched to the front of the Waldorf Astoria ballroom and played "Amazing Grace."
It didn't exactly rile up the crowd for Perry, whose campaign has been on life support after a series of painful debate performances. Most of the award recipients got full standing ovations. Perry's ovation was partial, and a little perfunctory.
Introducing him at the podium was John Catsimatidis, a Foundation board member and a generous Republican donor, who gave the $2,500 maximum to Perry's campaign in late September, when the candidate made a highly public swing through New York, casting himself as a more compelling, more combative alternative to Mitt Romney.
That was then, of course; now Perry is mired at the back of the polls and Catsimatidis, like most of the Republican establishment, has migrated to Romney.
Still, Catsimatidis did his best to tout Perry, who was receiving the State Service Award.
"The governor brags about stealing jobs from California—well, there's good reason to go to Texas," Catsimatidis said.
He cited the lack of a personal income tax and "no corporate taxes," with each one getting a separate round of applause, and mentioned the "Loser Pays" tort-reform bill that passed earlier this year.
Perry's campaign has been criticized for being too parochial and inaccessibly Texan, and, in the event's thick program, which featured biographies and salutory letters from a few dozen elected officials, Perry's entry was the only one without a formal letter. In its place, somewhat jarringly, was a brief history of the Alamo beneath a Texas flag and the headline "Remember the Alamo!"
Perry's speech was a little more national in scope, and it started with what seemed to be a reference to Occupy Wall Street and its ilk.
"We find ourselves in very troubling times, with civil unrest, misplaced anger, disrespect for the law," he said. "The vast majority of decent law abiding American citizens know well that we are free because you are brave, and we are truly thankful for your service."
After that, Perry tried to reach back for the fastball.
"I told John, I said, 'John you don't mind if I get back here and peel back the skin a little bit, do you?' He said, 'Let 'er rip.' So grab a hold," Perry told the crowd.
He went on to criticize President Obama on "our porous and unsecure border with Mexico," and the "ill-conceived operation known as Fast and Furious," but he stopped somewhere just short of calling for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder.
"Federal law enforcement officials deserve an attorney general who displays the same courage and sense of responsibility for which they serve," he said.
(A spokesman for Perry did not immediately return an email asking whether Perry is calling for Holder's resignation, as some other candidates have done.)
Perry also mentioned his plan for reforming all three branches of government, unveiled earlier this week, and he tried to reclaim the mantel of the outspoken non-establishment G.O.P. candidate willing to speak truth to power.
"There are some who want to tinker around the edges," he said. "There are some who want the current system, the status quo to stay in place. There are those who believe as I do that Washington is broken and tinkering isn't going to fix it. I believe that Washington does not need just a new coat of paint, it needs a complete overhaul."
The press who attended all fit around one table, with a few empty seats, and no one raced for the exits when Perry slipped away off-stage, before the fried lunch was served.
As far as anyone at the event knew, Perry did not have any fund-raisers scheduled, a rarity for presidential candidates when they're in New York City.
But at least one donor liked what he heard. After a few weeks of characterizing Perry as "not ready for prime time," Catsimatidis told the Times Union that he'd like to see a Romney-Perry ticket.