First, that’s because he continues to control so many state appointments — and, as critics see it, the unlimited contributions of the donors he doles them out to. A fourth term as governor isn’t out of the question in a state the size of France, where races are mainly run and won with expensive TV ads.
And his team has signaled that it believes he did so well that he might run for president again in 2016, or at least seek a fourth term as governor in 2014.
“You’ve got a situation where the 800-pound gorilla just did a season on ‘Biggest Loser,’ ” said Democratic strategist Joe Householder of Houston-based Purple Strategies. “But now he’s a 300-pound gorilla,” and that’s still not a house pet.
Over time, Texas Republicans who’ve long been overshadowed by Perry, such as Attorney General Greg Abbott, are expected to be watching carefully to see if he’s vulnerable enough to run against in a primary in 2014, if he does decide to run. But that’s far off, and it would serve no purpose to start making noises about that now.
Though many Texans told pollsters they thought the governor had reinforced the worst mistaken impressions of their state, that doesn’t mean those who’ve supported him in the past won’t see fit to do so again.
He’s kept a low profile since returning to the state last week, after suspending his campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich. But you might be surprised how eager Texans seem even now to give him the benefit of the doubt — even praising such an imperceptible achievement as knowing to get out of the race when he did, before suffering yet another defeat in South Carolina, where he was polling at the back of the pack.
A Dallas Morning News editorial headlined “Rick Perry’s next act,” said that he had done an admirable job of making the state look darn good: “One sidelight of Perry’s brief presidential campaign was free advertising for Texas exceptionalism — our economy, business climate and mushrooming population.” Alas, “He wasn’t able to use that to sell himself nationally, but one thing is a cinch: Texas’ growth and growing pains are not going away, and a governor’s visionary leadership is indispensable in dealing with them.”
Which is not exactly, “Thanks for nothing, Gov.” It wasn’t that he was missed day-to-day during the months he was away campaigning, his critics said. “There were huge wildfires while he was gone, and nobody said he needs to come home and deal with this,” said Marc Campos, a Democratic communications consultant.
But lobbyists who have to work with Perry aren’t about to say a negative word, and Democrats aren’t laughing too hard over the recent poll numbers, Campos said, “because what does it say about us if we’ve been getting our [rear ends] kicked by Perry for 10 years, and it turns out he’s this weak?”