“Listen,” he said recently at a coffee shop here in front of several dozen voters. “I may not be the most polished candidate out there. . . . I may not even be the best debater. . . . I’m that outsider that’s going to go in and deconstruct that mentality in Washington that they know best.”
Less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the Texas governor is trying to reclaim some of the cachet he has lost since his initial burst of success. He continues to languish in the single digits in polls, with attention focused on a battle between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), with Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) hovering as a potential spoiler.
But Perry’s presence in the race remains a factor the other candidates cannot ignore. He is a formidable fundraiser, bringing in $17 million — more than any of his GOP rivals — during the last fundraising period. Over the past two months, his campaign and a “super PAC” backing him poured $2.7 million into Iowa television ads, more than all his rivals combined.
Now, Perry hopes that his 2,500-mile, 42-city bus tour across Iowa will drive up his numbers by letting him do what he does best on the campaign trail: win over voters one on one.
“I just want people to know I’m an approachable, regular person,” he said in an interview in the back of his campaign bus, where he said he sometimes unwinds with a short nap between events. “I’m kind of the same guy I was 20 years ago. A little more broken down now, maybe. Older but wiser.”
Political observers who have watched Perry’s career say the humility isn’t an act. After two decades of navigating the familiar territory of Texas, he was unprepared for the rigors of a national campaign, they say.
“He’s very comfortable moving among Texans. His feel for that is pitch perfect,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Texas. “But he’s not in Texas. He’s unsure, he’s nervous, he’s scared and he’s losing. . . . In the end, he’ll come back to his place in Texas but he’ll never have that swagger again.”
Perry said the questions he is asked on the campaign trail are more pointed than those he faces in Texas, “edgier” — in part, he surmises, because the state’s economy is so much stronger than that of other states.
Before his late entrance into the race, Perry was considered the GOP’s “complete package” to take on President Obama. He had more than a decade of experience running an economically strong state, and a populist appeal that could bring around tea party and religious conservatives. Once he entered the contest, he usurped Romney’s place as front-runner.