THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — This time, there were no satellite TV trucks, media throngs or fawning Republicans awaiting his arrival.
As he weighs whether to run for president again, Texas Gov. Rick Perry returned Thursday to this leadoff presidential caucus state for the first time since his flameout during his first White House bid last year. His arrival was much more muted than before.
“I would do a number of things differently,” Perry told a small group of mostly local reporters on hand at the start of a two-day trip. He planned to meet privately with political leaders and business groups, the quiet work typical of more successful presidential campaigns.
Reminded he was in Iowa far earlier than he was the first time he ran, Perry quipped: “That would certainly be one of the things I would do differently.”
Among the other things he’s doing this time: introducing himself to Iowans more deliberately.
Perry met Thursday with Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and GOP Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and was scheduled to headline in Des Moines the annual Republican fall fundraising dinner in Iowa’s most populous county. He plans to return in December.
The stakes are high, given how far and fast Perry fell before.
“Making a first impression a second time is hard, very hard,” said David Carney, Perry’s chief strategist as governor and in his 2012 presidential campaign.
A full year before those caucuses, rumors spread about a possible Perry campaign as Republicans looked for an alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney.
With folksy charm and an outsider’s pitch, the conservative Perry didn’t get into the race until the summer of 2011. During his first Iowa visit that August just after announcing his candidacy, he was smothered by media and photo-grabbing GOP activists as he moved from table to table at a Republican banquet in the north part of the state.
It was a relatively late arrival into the campaign that hindered efforts to raise money and build an organization. His troubles continued with shaky debate performances that included the infamous “Oops” moment when he couldn’t recall one of the three federal agencies he had promised to eliminate as president.
Perry finished fifth in the leadoff Iowa caucuses last year and quit the race two weeks later.
“He didn’t do as much homework as he should have for that race,” said state Rep. Chip Baltimore, who supported Perry for a time in 2011. “I don’t expect him to make that mistake twice.”
Iowans have been known to reward repeat candidates — though it’s been a while since they did.
Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole was the last Republican to do as poorly his first time running and eventually become the GOP nominee. It took 16 years.
As for Perry, Iowa GOP strategist John Stineman, said “his journey would be uphill with a steep grade. And he would enter the race as at the back of the field instead of at the front like he did in 2011.”
“The operative question is, Has he gained the humility and accompanying candidate work ethic that he did not display last time around?” Stineman said.