The 5 biggest things to watch during Rick Perry’s New Hampshire trip


Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). (Jack Plunkett/Bloomberg)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and the state of New Hampshire didn't exactly part ways on good terms.

The last time Perry was in New Hampshire in early January 2012, he was on the verge of a disappointing sixth place showing in the presidential primary, his last before bowing out of the race.

Today, Perry returns to the Granite State for the first time in more than two and a half years in search of a fresh start.

Perry is under indictment on felony charges alleging he abused his power and tried to coerce a public official to resign. But you wouldn't know that from his demeanor: He's cheerfully gone about his business, courting media attention and traveling the country. And he's insisted at every stop that his indictment is a political hit job.

Here are the five biggest things to watch on Perry's two-day swing through the state, where he'll meet with business leaders, attend a pork roast, speak at an event held by the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and rally support for the New Hampshire Republican Party:

1. How will the 'I' word play among conservative activists? 

Perry's legal woes haven't appeared to hurt his political standing. The charges have arguably bolstered it. The question is whether hus support runs dry among New Hampshire conservative activists or broadens. Some of the most powerful Republicans in the country, and even some Democrats, have suggested that the case against Perry is pretty thin gruel. He vetoed funding to an anti-corruption agency after a district attorney whose office oversees the agency refused to step down following her drunk driving arrest. Where Perry's detractors see coercion, his backers see a principled stand. No doubt the indictment will come up today and Saturday. Given what we've seen so far, the smart money says it will make the applause for him louder than it otherwise would have been.

2. Will he stick to the script?

Perry's Thursday speech at the Heritage Foundation was billed as a talk on immigration and border security. But Perry spent ample time talking about Iraq, Syria and even his indictment. He seems to relish jumping into whatever the day's biggest debate may be. Perry's expected to talk about border security and immigration (spoiler alert: he thinks President Obama needs to do more to secure the border), the economy, the midterms and maybe even foreign policy. His willingness to stray from expected topics means we don't what we're going to get until he starts talking.

3. He lost badly in 2012. How does he explain it?

Remember me? The guy who got less than 1 percent of the vote in 2012? Okay, so he can't say it like that that. But he can't ignore the elephant in the room either. If Perry wants to run for president again -- something he is openly weighing -- he'll have to acknowledge to New Hampshire Republicans, at some point, the disaster that was his 2012 campaign. A touch of self-deprecation is probably his best bet.

4. Any endorsements in primaries?

It's more likely Perry will speak highly of the entire slate of Republican candidate running for office rather than singling out a race or candidate. But New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has waded -- somewhat surprisingly --in to the contested GOP primary for governor, endorsing business executive Walt Havenstein. Perry may want to match or one-up Christie, a potential 2016 rival.

5. Will he make a gaffe?

The defining moment of Perry's 2012 campaign was a gaffe. In a 2011 Michigan debate, Perry painfully -- seriously, try to watch it without cringing -- forgot the name of a third government agency he wanted to eliminate. It's now commonly known as his "oops" moment. If Perry can keep his remarks this weekend gaffe-free, it will be the first step toward convincing voters he is more prepared and serious this time. If he doesn't, it will remind people why he was the "oops" candidate in the first place.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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