Rick Perry tries to hit the ‘reset’ button

at 07:48 AM ET, 10/25/2011

Rick Perry’s unveiling of a flat tax plan today in South Carolina is the latest piece of evidence that the Texas governor is trying to push the “reset” button on a presidential campaign that has faltered badly after a strong start.


Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speaks at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition presidential candidate forum in Des Moines, Iowa, over the weekend. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Perry’s economic speech comes on the same day his campaign is reportedly set to launch its first ads in Iowa and just 24 hours after news broke that he was expanding his political team to include a trio of veterans of Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) 2010 campaign, as well as George W. Bush loyalist Joe Allbaugh.

Movement doesn’t always equal progress, but Perry and his (now-expanded) political team are clearly hoping to use the next three debate-free weeks to re-write the prevailing “Perry is fading” narrative of the campaign.

That Perry has fallen from the lofty frontrunning heights of late August is indisputable.

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in early September — two weeks after Perry got into the race — he stood atop the field with 30 percent. By earlier this month, Perry’s support had been cut in half. Early state polling has shown a similar arc, as the initial excitement over Perry has worn off following a series of lackluster debate performances.

Perry’s campaign — and Perry himself — has acknowledged that he is not a skilled debater but insists that the coverage of his decline has been overstated, noting that most voters had yet to really begin to pay close attention to the race and that, when they did, Perry would have the money to make sure his message was heard.

And that’s money that Perry has. (He collected $17 million in his first month and a half of active fundraising and has a number of super PACs operating on his behalf.)

Message, though, is what he’s lacked. And that’s what today’s speech in South Carolina — and his passel of new political advisers — are aimed at addressing.

“Perry’s economic message has been almost entirely focused on what he did in Texas, which is fine if you happen to live in Texas,” said Todd Harris, an unaligned Republican strategist. “What he hasn’t done yet is connect his message to everyday working people in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, and explain what his ideas mean for their lives. I am sure the Perry camp hopes this flat tax plan is a step in that direction.”

As we’ve written, the flat tax is the sort of simple (and bold) proposal to a complex problem that can have real appeal in a Republican primary electorate fed up with how Washington works.

And, for a politician who has premised his entire presidential candidacy on a promise to get the nation’s capital out of the lives of everyday Americans, the flat tax seems like a nice fit. (The just-landed endorsement of flat tax king — and 1996 and 2000 presidential candidate — Steve Forbes doesn’t hurt either.)

The question for Perry is whether he can turn his on-paper appeal into real-life results. With businessman Herman Cain wilting somewhat in the national spotlight, the Republican electorate’s search for a conservative alternative to Romney seems likely to continue.

To date, Perry has given those nomadic voters little reason to be for him. His second attempt to make a first impression begins in earnest today with a tax plan that should — and we emphasize should — endear him to conservatives. It’s up to Perry to sell the plan (and himself) in the next three weeks.

This won’t help: Perry may have reignited the birther controversy with his comments to Parade Magazine. Well, now he’s throwing fuel on the fire.

CNBC’s John Harwood tweeted early this morning that Perry told the network in an interview that he’s happy to keep the issue in the news.

“It’s a good issue to keep alive,” Perry said. “It’s fun to poke at him.”

Previously, Perry dismissed the issue as a distraction but said he didn’t know the truth. This quote makes it sound like he’s only too happy to keep it going. We’ll see if he does.

One other thought: The quote makes Perry sound like he’s doing this merely for “fun” — or political gain. That’s quite an admission.

As Perry tries to talk about the flat tax, he’s now going to have to talk about this as well.

DCCC welcomes more than 100 candidates to D.C.: In a show of force, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is welcoming more than 100 candidates from 36 states to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for a conference and candidate training.

The move mimics something Republicans did two years ago, but Democrats point out that they are highlighting even more candidates than the GOP did at this point two years ago. (Republicans had named 41 candidates to their Young Guns program for top recruits by late October 2009.)

Democrats are increasingly bullish on their prospects of retaking the House, and recently they highlighted 60 districts in which they believe they have a strong recruit; they need to win 25 GOP seats to recover their lost majority.

Di Martino joins Blue Engine: David Di Martino, a former top spokesman for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), has joined Blue Engine Message and Media as a partner, the firm will announce today.

Di Martino has also worked for Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), as well as for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the public affairs firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers.

Blue Engine was founded by Erik Smith and Kathy Roeder.

Fixbits:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) says Herman Cain is un-discliplined.

Speaking of which: Cain’s chief of staff Mark Block takes a drag off a cigarette in a bizarre new web ad urging supporters to get involved.

Cain and Newt Gingrich will take part in a modified Lincoln-Douglas style debate in Texas next month.

Obama says he has kept 60 percent of his promises.

The conservative American Action Forum’s Douglas Holtz-Eakin will sit down with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) this morning for a discussion on debt-reduction “supercommittee’s” recommendations at 10 a.m. at the National Press Club.

Nebraska Senate candidate Deb Fischer (R) benefits from a federal subsidy for cattle farmers.

The insurgent candidate in the Ohio GOP Senate primary has dropped out, clearing the way for state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R).

Occupy Wall Street protesters lean significantly towards Democrats.

The Illinois GOP’s 2010 lieutenant governor candidate, businessman Jason Plummer, is running for retiring Rep. Jerry Costello’s (D-Ill.) seat.

Fifty-seven percent of Ohioans favor repealing Gov. John Kasich’s (R) bill curbing the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions, with just two weeks to go until a referendum.

Must-reads:

His agenda stalled, Obama uses executive power -- and bully pulpit” — Peter Nicholas and Don Lee, Los Angeles Times

Staff Spat Opens Window on Bachmann Campaign Discord” — Neil King Jr., Wall Street Journal

Calendar Gives Romney a Boost” — Neil King Jr., Wall Street Journal

Lectern Gone, Romney Finds More Success” — Michael D. Shear and Ashley Parker, New York Times

 
Read what others are saying