ORLANDO, Fla. – Walking through the halls of the Orange County Convention Center, you hear these words and phrases over and over again.
Perry. Immigration. Illegals. Tuition. Illegals. He didn’t do as well as he could have. Why?
Almost every conversation I walked into was on the question of why Rick Perry approved a law that let young non-citizens get in-state tuition rates at Texas schools, and why he had characterized the program’s critics as heartless. Dwayne Clark, an African-American sporting both Perry and Cain gear, was having an exhausting talk with a Cain backer named Carol Van Remmen.
“Look,” admitted Clark. “Perry blew it. It’s his fault that this is a discussion, because he did a bad job of explaining the program. There’s no welfare for illegal immigrants. If they’re in the state for three years, they’re adding to the economy, they can get the tuition rates that Texans get.”
Van Remmen couldn’t be convinced. “I have grandchildren going to college,” she said. “They’re struggling. Their Pell grants aren’t worth as much this year. The reason why is that all this money is going to illegal immigrants.”
Some version of this debate was happening every few yards. A Perry backer, Dave Baldauff, who was handing out stickers and signs, kept brainstorming ways to re-frame it.
“He’s got to do a better job explaining this,” said Baldauff. “It doesn’t help that Fox did a bad job. You can’t explain this in 30 seconds, when Chris Wallace is asking you gotcha questions.”
He got some unexpected help when a Santorum supporter walked by, stopped, and explained how Perry should explain that if he didn’t sign that bill, well, the illegals would have gotten tuition deals from other states.