Iowa officials say they believe Perry is no racist

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks about Israel during a news conference in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Mary Altaffer

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Mary Altaffer

Updated: 5:45 p.m. ET

The negative headlines may be cascading for Texas Gov. Rick Perry on a national level, but so far they have caused barely a ripple for the Republican presidential hopeful in all-important Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation nominating caucus next year.

Word of Sunday's front-page story in the Washington Post, describing a racial epithet once used as the informal name of Perry's hunting retreat, has gotten around the cities and hamlets of Iowa, but local political officials say people are giving Perry the benefit of the doubt. The candidate said that he found the word "offensive" and that his father painted over the name, which appeared in block letters on a rock at the hunting camp's entrance, when he bought the place in the 1980s.

"Until a candidate is proven to not tell the truth, I believe them," said Garland "Mac" McDonald, the GOP chairman of Black Hawk County, which takes in the city of Waterloo. "Perry said the painting on the rock was there when his family bought the property and it was painted over. I take him at his word." McDonald added helpfully, "Maybe a fresh coat of paint would help!"

The Post story said some letters in the word were still discernible on the rock, and reported that that local residents saw the name clearly on the rock after the Perrys bought the land.

Jeff Jorgensen, the Republican chairman of Pottawattamie County, which takes in Council Bluffs, said the story was not a big deal in his region, and that given Perry's reputation for helping illegal immigrants in Texas, it's difficult for anyone to now believe he is a racist. The label doesn't hold up when you get into the "meat of the story" he said.

Perry also got some help from GOP rival Herman Cain, a businessman who finished first in the Florida Republican straw poll last month. Cain, the only black Republican in the race, criticized Perry on the news talk shows on Sunday as "insensitive," but said in New York City on Monday that he was satisfied with Perry's explanation. "I'm done with that issue!" he told reporters.*

Paul Young, a Perry senior adviser in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary, said, "The only one talking to me about it is the national media. Not one word from a New Hampshire voter."

Aaron McLear, a California GOP strategist who has worked for President George W. Cheney, the Republican National Committee and ex-Golden State Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said Perry needs to change the subject to get back on message.

But that could be difficult for Perry -- according to his current calendar, he will be fundraising in California the next two days and won't be making another public appearance until his speech on Friday at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C.

"Whether he's right or wrong, you don't want to be talking about this," McLear said. "It really doesn't matter whether he's right or wrong; what matters is moving on and talking about what you want to talk about as quickly as possible ... If I'm the governor, you don't hear me talk about anything except for jobs."

Over the weekend, Perry also sparked controversy by saying in New Hampshire that as president he would consider sending U.S. troops to Mexico to help subdue that country's violent drug lords.

Rodney Hawkins and Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this report.

*Correction: This post has been changed since its original posting. Cain did not say "enough with the rock," as was originally reported.

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    Sarah Huisenga is covering the Mitt Romney campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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