Dave Montgomery Austin Correspondent
AUSTIN – After announcing plans to close out his record tenure as Texas governor, Rick Perry faces another critical decision in the months ahead as he evaluates whether or not to attempt a do-over in presidential politics after his disastrous initial run in 2012.
Analysts and pollsters say Perry barely registers as a serious contender in what is likely to be a crowded GOP field in 2016 and has been pushed aside on the national stage by another Texan – tea party-backed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. But Perry associates – as well as Perry himself – say the governor has learned from past mistakes and is positioning himself toward a potential second run for the White House in the post-Obama election three years from now.
Austin political consultant Ray Sullivan, who was communications director for Perry’s 2012 presidential race, predicts that many of the missteps that dogged Perry last year – including the infamous “oops” moment during a debate – would be irrelevant and virtually forgotten by the time the next presidential race unfolds. “I believe he will mount a presidential campaign but nobody will know until they hear that from him,” said Sullivan. “I think it’s fair to say he’s interested.”
Ending more than a year of speculation, the state’s longest serving governor announced his decision not to seek an unprecedented fourth term before more than 200 supporters gathered in a HOLT CAT warehouse in Southeast San Antonio. The heavy machinery manufacturer was chosen as the site for the July 8 announcement to exemplify the state’s robust job growth that Perry has touted as a trademark of his administration. Describing his office as “the greatest job in modern politics,” the 63-year-old governor said he would continue to “actively lead” the state by championing “more jobs, opportunity and innovation.”
He also implicitly acknowledged that he would entertain the prospect of another bid for the presidency. “Any future considerations I will announce in due time, and I will arrive at that decision appropriately,” he said. Perry apparently began eyeing a second White House run almost from the instant he ended his first presidential candidacy. Immediately after Perry pulled out of the 2012 race, Sullivan, as Perry’s chief spokesman, told reporters that the governor would consider another presidential race in 2016 as well as the possibility of a re-election campaign, which he ultimately ruled out in his announcement last week.
Perry showed early promise as a presidential contender in 2012, exuding the image of a tough Texan with a proven record of economic success in his home state. He quickly surged to the top of the polls against his Republican adversaries but began to flounder after the “oops” moment, in which he couldn’t remember one of three federal agencies he said he would target for closure. He was forced out of the race just before the South Carolina primary, ending his candidacy about five months after he started. Losses in Iowa and New Hampshire destroyed what previously had been a signature claim that he had never suffered a defeat during his years in electoral politics.
Lingering memories of Perry’s missteps may cause many voters to automatically dismiss Perry as a serious candidate in 2016 before he has a chance to redeem himself, several analysts said following the July 8 announcement. Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, Raleigh, N.C., said Perry initially was included in polling for the 2016 race but was dropped “because he was getting so little support.” “He was consistently getting one or two percent and he would be … eighth or ninth,” among nine candidates, said Jensen. “We stopped including him and put in Ted Cruz instead, and Cruz has been doing a lot better than Perry had been doing.”
Perry also fared poorly with voters in his home state when the poll surveyed Texans about their preferences among Republican candidates in 2016. Perry came in sixth with 7 percent. Cruz was first with 27 percent, followed by Jeb Bush, 17 percent; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, both 11 percent; and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, 9 percent. “It was clear that he has a pretty bad image and he has to completely reform how Republican voters see him,” said Jensen. Kyle Kondik, an analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Perry made a “weak first impression” that could be daunting to overcome in a second contest. “It’s certainly possible that he could do better than he did last time,” said Kondik. “It’s hard to imagine that he could do worse.
“I think that ‘oops’ moment was the defining image of Perry for a lot of voters,” said Kondik. Perry and aides have acknowledged that one mistake was jumping into the 2012 race too early and without adequate preparation. Houston investor Jim Lee, Perry’s finance chairman, said the candidate and his campaign team will be more deliberative as they size up another run in 2016. “What we learned from the 2012 cycle was you just can’t do it on short order,” said Lee. “I would look at it as a long runway and make a decision about taking off a year and a half from now.” The time frame for a potential entry in the race would be the spring of 2015, shortly after Perry leaves the governor’s office in January 2015, said Lee.
“I think the governor and his team are clearly getting in a position now to have the option to make a viable run for 2016,” said Lee. “That means having the right national finance team in place. That means having the right policy and political people in place nationally, and that means serving out his term here as governor with the attention to detail that it needs.” Lee and other supporters say Perry would boast many of the strengths that appealed to voters during his first race – longtime leadership experience running the nation’s second-largest state and success in making Texas a national leader in job creation. Perry’s current high-profile support for toughened abortion restrictions could also augment his appeal among social conservatives, who make up a large segment of Republican primary voters.
Perry’s travels to lure out-of-state businesses to relocate in the Lone Star State have the effect of reaching out to voters in other parts of the country, say analysts, and experts also say Perry should take advantage of national speaking opportunities to deliver substantive addresses on various policy issues. Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Poll, said Perry presumably would be able to focus more effectively on his candidacy by entering the race after ending his governor’s duties. “This time he would come on the scene not as a top tier candidate as he did the last time,” said Miringoff. “He would be someone who would at least get a looking over from voters and that is about all you could wish for in a very crowded field.”