Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell conceded that his friend Texas Gov. Rick Perry didn't deliver his best performance at last week's Republican presidential debate. But he encouraged people to be patient with Perry's candidacy.
"With this kind of debt and deficit and unemployment rate, people will forgive something they might think is an inferior debate performance if somebody's right on the issues," McDonnell, a Republican, said to reporters Monday night outside a fundraiser for the New Hampshire GOP. "It's early in the campaign; he's been in the race for three weeks. I'd say cut him some slack."
Perry has been in the presidential contest for six weeks. His performance at the Orlando debate was widely criticized and helped produce surprisingly weak numbers the next day in a Florida straw poll.
McDonnell and Perry are "close friends," according to McDonnell spokesman J. Tucker Martin. McDonnell took over as chairman of the Republican Governors Association last month when its previous leader, Perry, stepped down to focus on the presidential race.
McDonnell also has a close relationship with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, another GOP presidential hopeful, and said they regularly speak on the phone.
As the governor of a swing state, McDonnell is considered a rising star in Republican politics and is often discussed as a potential vice presidential nominee. He said he hasn't spoken with Romney or Perry about sharing the ticket.
McDonnell declined to offer any endorsement Monday and said he probably wouldn't until at least November. But he said he would likely back a current or former governor.
"They have to get results," he said of governors, noting that they have to balance budgets and work with both parties. "They can't make excuses."
Before speaking to reporters, McDonnell offered more formal remarks to a crowd of New Hampshire Republican officials and activists. It was considered his first high-profile address since taking over the Republican Governors Association.
He evoked a handful of former presidents, closing with a reference to former President Ronald Reagan.
"We've got a lot of work to do to put the shine back in the city on the hill," he said.