I spent two days in New Hampshire last week watching Rick Perry mug for the camera in front a spit-roasting pig, rally conservative activists to vote in November, crack wise with business leaders about poaching a local manufacturing facility and somberly address veterans in the hometown of slain photojournalist James Foley.
Here's what I learned from following the Texas Republican governor:
1. He really wants to run for president again. Like, really. He says hasn't decided whether he will, but you could just sense he badly wants another chance. He relished the glad-handing and picture-taking, never once seeming impatient. He detailed a hawkish foreign policy like someone itching to be commander-in-chief. He promised to come back in October to help Republicans win in November -- a surefire way to win influential friends. He's hired veteran GOP strategist Mike Dennehy to guide his efforts. And on it goes. Perry sounded like he had fully come to terms with his disastrous 2012 campaign, freely admitting to reporters that he wasn't well-prepared last time. He's putting in the kind of legwork you only do if you are seriously considering running again. And he looks like he is having fun doing it.
2. The dude is stylish. This is Perry's casual, dressed-down Saturday look: A black blazer over a black polo short with gray trousers. (He went fully suited on Friday, natch.) Remember how Mitt Romney ditched his tie and rolled up his sleeves as much as possible in 2012 in order to shed his image as a wealthy, distant businessman? Well, expect the opposite from Perry if he runs in 2016. He wants to come across as extra-serious, since he became an instant laughingstock after failing to name the third government agency he wanted to eliminate during a 2011 debate. He wears glasses these days, but one thing hasn't changed: he still has one of the best heads of hair in politics.
3. He's decided which foreign policy lane he wants to occupy in 2016. Perry wants to be the hawkish, authoritative voice on national security. Time and again in New Hampshire, he talked about the need to respond forcefully to extremist militants who are fighting for power in Iraq. He tried to bring the strife closer to home by suggesting that those extremists could be using the "porous" southern border of the U.S. to enter the country. Perry wants to be the anti-Rand Paul when it comes to foreign policy. The challenge for him is that there are other hawkish voices like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who are already trying to seize the same mantle.
4. He likes retail politics. Perry seemed to like talking to voters. His banter didn't seemed forced. He was polite. (Favorite phrases: "Yes, ma'am" and "Yes, sir.") He joshed them when the time was right. ("You raised a pretty good looking boy. He's got his mama's looks," he told one man.) This is the side of Perry that was overshadowed by his gaffes in 2012. Winning in Iowa and New Hampshire is about connecting with a small universe of Republicans in a deeply personal way. Perry is capable of making the sell, one-on-one. But so are Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Christie, among others. That's Perry's challenge.
5. He really likes to talk about the weather. Okay, which politician doesn't? It's a risk-free ice breaker. But Perry seems especially obsessed. At several stops, Perry gave New England's temperate August climate glowing reviews, especially compared to Austin, Texas. "The weather's nice. Why wouldn't you want to go knock on doors outside on a day like today? I'm going to leave here in a little bit and go back to Texas. I'm thinking it might be a little bit warmer there from the standpoint of the climate," he told activists Saturday morning. He's made similar comments about California. Hey, Governor, just something to ponder as you make that final decision about 2016: D.C. summers are pretty brutal!