Washington (CNN) – Texas Gov. Rick Perry has found himself on the defensive after The Washington Post reported Sunday that a hunting ranch leased by the Perry family for decades was marked at its entrance by a rock painted with the word "Niggerhead."
But it's not the first time Perry has found himself dealing with the tricky subject of race in the heat of a campaign.
During Perry's 1990 campaign for Agriculture Commissioner against incumbent Democrat Jim Hightower -his first statewide race– Perry was accused of "race-baiting" after his campaign ran a television ad tying Hightower to Jesse Jackson.
Hightower backed Jackson's unsuccessful 1988 bid to become the first African-American president.
According to a pair of news reports from November of 1990, the Perry ad, which ran in the closing weeks of the campaign, depicted Hightower and Jackson side-by-side as a narrator asked: "Does Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower share your values?"
The ad also said that Hightower chaired Jackson's presidential campaign in Texas, a claim disputed by news reports about the race.
The Hightower campaign accused Perry of using racial scare tactics and assembled a group of African-American elected officials to condemn the ad at a press conference in Dallas, according to a Fort Worth Star Telegram story.
"It's racist, it's insulting, it's an affront to our community and we are downright mad about it," state Rep. Fred Blair said of the ad, according to the paper.
Hightower supporters said the spot was reminiscent of the now-infamous Willie Horton ad that helped derail Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign in 1988.
State Rep. Larry Evans, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus at the time, penned a letter to Perry accusing him of "race-baiting" and calling on his campaign to pull the ad.
"My request is based upon my knowledge of you as an honorable and racially sensitive man," Evans wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to CNN by the independent Democratic group American Bridge.
Perry refused to pull the ad and went on to win the race.
He blasted Hightower for pushing "a despicable, low-life smear" and called on the Democrat to apologize for "injecting racism" into the campaign, according to a Houston Post column from that November.
A spokesman for Perry's presidential campaign said the goal of the ad was simply to highlight Hightower's ties to one of the era's leading liberal politicians.
"Rev. Jackson led the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party in his 1988 presidential campaign and Jim Hightower was his Texas campaign chairman," said Ray Sullivan, Perry's communications director. "The 1990 TV ad truthfully highlighted Mr. Hightower's role in the '88 presidential campaign and truthfully demonstrated his very liberal politics to Texas general election voters."
Sullivan noted that a number of African-American officials from Texas have come forward in the wake of the Washington Post story to defend Perry against allegations of racism.
One of them who served with Perry in the state legislature before the 1990 race, former Democratic state Rep. Ron Wilson, told the Texas Tribune on Monday that the governor "doesn't have a racist bone in his body."
But Leland Beatty, one of Hightower's advisers on the 1990 campaign, recalls that Perry and his aides were unmistakably trying to tap into racial anxieties with the Jackson ad.
As Beatty remembers it, the Perry campaign was "obviously trying to scare people."
"Being a political professional, I know why people do those sorts of things, and they wanted to make people afraid," he told CNN.