AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Governor Rick Perry has gotten a rocky welcome home to Texas, facing low poll numbers and criticism over state expenses related to his failed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
Travel for Perry's security team cost the state nearly $800,000 between September and November, according to a new report from the state Department of Public Safety.
The money paid for airfare, food and hotels for the governor's protective detail during trips both in Texas and to out-of-state locations such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Manchester, New Hampshire.
The longest-serving governor in Texas history was briefly the frontrunner among Republican presidential contenders, but he stumbled with poor debate performances and gaffes - including his memorable "oops" when he couldn't recall the third federal agency he wanted to eliminate. He dropped out of the race last week.
His campaign paid many expenses, but the state provides security for the governor and first lady. That's been the policy in Texas for decades, gubernatorial spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said.
"Governor Perry is governor no matter where he goes," Nashed told Reuters in an e-mail. "It's unfortunate that we live in a day and age where security is an issue."
Democrats say he should repay that money.
"Unnecessary government spending is not just morally wrong, it is criminal," state House Democratic Leader Jessica Farrar wrote Perry in a letter this week asking him to give the Texas comptroller a check for expenses related to out-of-state campaigning.
A poll of Texas adults released this week by the state's major daily newspapers showed Perry's job approval rating at 40 percent, the lowest level in 10 years. Forty percent said they disapproved of how Perry was doing as governor.
Still, Perry has proved politically resilient over the years. Until he launched his presidential bid, he'd never lost an election.
Reporting By Corrie MacLaggan and Jim Forsyth; Editing by Cynthia Johnston