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Perry hits Obama-level approval rating in Texas

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WILL WEISSERT and JIM VERTUNO | January 26, 2012 07:51 PM EST | AP

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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Rick Perry's White House bid tarnished his image enough that he's about as popular in his solidly Republican home state as President Barack Obama, a poll published Thursday shows.

Perry's approval rating after his failed presidential bid has fallen to 40 percent, a 10-point drop from a year ago and slightly less than Obama's 43 percent statewide approval rating, according to the poll. More than half of the people who responded to a statewide survey don't want Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, to run for another term in 2014.

Perry's campaign for president – during which he made a series of public gaffs and debate flubs that turned him into a national punch line – embarrassed some Texans. Forty-five percent of those polled said the campaign actually hurt the state's image.

"He should have never been in the race," said Traci Humphrey, a 33-year-old Republican from Dallas, who wasn't a poll respondent. "I think it made us look like idiots, how he conducted himself. His overall image is not good for Texas."

It wasn't long ago that Perry led even presidential public opinion polls. He became an almost overnight front-runner when he strode into the race for the GOP nomination in August.

But that was before a series of verbal mistakes that included forgetting the voting age; forgetting the name of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and then mixing up how many judges are on the court; or mistakenly saying U.S. ally Turkey was run by Islamic extremists.

Then there was his infamous "oops" debate moment, when Perry said that as president he'd eliminate three federal agencies but could remember only two of them.

"I think it's pretty clear that people even in Texas don't think that the presidential campaign went very well," said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics project at the University of Texas. "There aren't a lot of people who are willing to say, `Wow, he did us proud.'"

The poll was conducted Jan. 21-24 for The Dallas Morning News, the Austin American Statesman, the San Antonio Express-News, the Houston Chronicle and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. The random telephone survey of 806 Texans, including 669 registered voters, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Forty percent respondents said they disapprove of the job Perry is doing.

Though his approval rating may be on par with Obama's, Perry would still seem more likely to win voters in his very red native state. Henson pointed out that Perry has continued to win re-election even though his approval ratings often fluctuated between the mid to high 30s and low 40s.

He said that Perry was in the mid to high 30s in the second half of 2009 and early 2010, when he easily won the Republican gubernatorial nomination over U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and then cruised to re-election over Democrat Bill White.

Before the presidential campaign, Perry had never lost an election since 1984, when he won a Texas House seat as a Democrat. He switched parties and won his first statewide post as agricultural commissioner before being elected lieutenant governor, ascending to the governorship when George W. Bush left for the White House in December 2000 and winning election to three full, four-year terms.

Though the poll released Thursday found 53 percent of respondents don't want Perry to run for a fourth full term in two years, Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said the governor doesn't let polling numbers dictate how he will govern.

Sullivan also said the governor hasn't ruled out running for president again in 2016, particularly if Obama wins a second term.

Asked if his poor presidential showing was embarrassing, Sullivan said, "the presidential campaign let even more Americans know about Texas' pro-job climate, great quality of life and culture of fiscal responsibility."

According to the poll, Perry's approval rating among Texas Republicans dipped from 73 percent to 60 percent, and among independents he fell from nearly half to 27 percent.

Erin Bonner, a soft-spoken Dallas businesswoman, said Perry "didn't come across well" during his presidential bid.

"I probably think of him as more redneck," Bonner said.

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Associated Press writer Linda Stewart Ball contributed to this report from Dallas.