Editor’s note: After doubts were raised about Rick Perry’s role in Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign, we looked afresh into the matter, concluding in September 2011 that Perry was not Gore’s Texas campaign manager or chairman. This research has prompted us to revise downward our rating of Medina’s claim to Half True.
Interviews and news articles confirm that Perry was among 28 Democratic legislators who endorsed Gore for president in January 1988. But there’s no proof he led or ran Gore’s campaign in Texas. It appears that a Democratic opponent slapped various Gore campaign leadership labels on Perry in a 1998 election year and, partly because Perry did not dispute them, the descriptives stuck.
For archival purposes, the article below retains the text of our original Medina fact check, which was published Jan. 16, 2010.
GOP gubernatorial hopeful Debra Medina, a Wharton businesswoman, started a question to Gov. Rick Perry during Thursday night's GOP gubernatorial debate by pointing out he hasn't always been a Republican.
Medina said: "Governor, you were a Democrat, having worked for Al Gore as his campaign manager..."
The Gore-y chapter of Perry's political life hasn't come up in a while.
We decided to explore Medina's two-part claim.
Perry didn't — and couldn't — dispute Medina's reminder that he was once a Democrat. Perry, whose father was repeatedly elected as a Democrat to the Haskell County Commission, won his first election, to the Texas House in 1984, as a Democrat. He won re-election in 1986 and 1988 before switching parties to challenge Democratic Agricultural Commissioner Jim Hightower in 1990 — a race that Perry won in an upset.
In the debate, Perry didn't answer Medina's charge that he was Gore's campaign manager.
In fact, according to news accounts and Perry's campaign, Perry served as Gore's Texas campaign chairman in 1988.
What brought Perry to pitch in for Gore, whose candidacy washed out after he failed to do well outside his native South?
According to news reports at the time, many conservative Texas Democrats put stock in Gore’s campaign, among them former Gov. Dolph Briscoe and then-House Speaker Gib Lewis, who flew to Washington to endorse Gore.
Later, Perry said he found out Gore was far from a real conservative.
"Going through that (Gore experience) was part of what started me through the process of changing parties in 1989," Perry said. "I came to my senses."
In the Texas primary, Gore ran third to Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the eventual nominee, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Late last year, Perry revisited his disagreement with Gore over man’s impact on global warming. Suggesting he'd seen the light on the climate issue while Gore had drifted into darker territory, Perry joked: "I certainly got religion. I think he's gone to hell."
So the two won't be launching any new joint ventures.
But Medina correctly nudged Perry about his Democratic roots. And she was close to right about his Gore connection, though a visitor from another planet might read her statement to mean Perry was improbably Gore's national campaign manager. Instead, he was Gore's Texas chairman.
We rate her statement Mostly True.
This rating was changed to Half True on Sept. 7, 2011.