Texas Gov. Rick Perry had a good day Saturday, in large part because he is a practiced pol. His speech went smoothly, his Web site launched and he did better than many casual observers expected in Ames because he had conducted a stealth campaign there for some time. In July Politico reported:
A new, so-called super PAC supporting a prospective Rick Perry presidential campaign is going up Monday in Iowa with a statewide television buy touting the Texas governor as “a better option” for president.
Jobs for Iowa is spending less than $40,000 for two weeks’ worth of air time on Fox News Channel in the state, a source familiar with the group told POLITICO. But the group is rumored to have the backing of wealthy Texas Republicans who have long supported Perry and are considering expanding the ad campaign to other states in the near future.
That’s undoubtedly more than Rick Santorum spent and certainly more than Mitt Romney did. (Romney spent nothing on media buys). Perry had also staffed up in Iowa. By mid-July Perry had “a few volunteers and seven paid staffers, most of whom played key roles in former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s Iowa operation.”
But starting late, Perry needed to put in some resources to at least get his name on the scoreboard in Ames. He did that. It doesn’t necessarily show grass-roots enthusiasm, but it sure does reflect some sophisticated campaigning.
Perry’s staff was restrained, but pleased with opening day. No one thinks this is going to be a snap. Spokesman Mark Miner e-mailed me Saturday night, “Over the next several months, Governor Perry looks forward to talking directly with voters about improving our economy and getting America working again.” David Carney, Perry’s political guru, said, “It was a good day, but just our first day. We have miles to go before we sleep.” (He get bonus points for quoting Robert Frost.)
Perry has several tasks ahead. The first is to prove he is a good retail politician who can stand up to the type of scrutiny New Hampshire and Iowa voters insist on subjecting their candidates to. Texas is a huge state, so Perry could win multiple elections with an effective air game. Speeches in big auditoriums and media buys are of less utility in the early primary states. He’ll need to show he can engage in small groups, talk on his feet and show fluidity with the issues.
The second is to figure out an innovative domestic agenda. He has the benefit of biography and a record. For a while, at least, he can tell voters what he has done in Texas. But after the introductions, voters will want to know what his specific plans are for the future. He won’t need a 12-point plan, but he does need positions on specific issues (entitlement reform, tax reform) going into the September debates. He must have enough to say so that he seems to be a legitimate first-tier candidate (unlike Jon Huntsman, who suffered from a dearth of particulars in the Iowa debate). As someone close to the Perry campaign put it to me, “The instincts are all right.” But instincts alone won’t be enough.
And finally he needs to have a game plan. Does he bother competing in Iowa? Can he hope to win in New Hampshire? Does he need to win a race before his best shot in South Carolina? In addition to defining himself and his positions, he must make tactical decisions. If he is to make headway he’s likely going to have to eat into Rep. Michele Bachmann’s chunk of the electorate. That means running more effectively against her than Tim Pawlenty did (Unlike Pawlenty, Perry is not vulnerable on ideological grounds.). In his last gubernatorial race, he ran against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, casting her as the Beltway insider. With Bachmann, that will be tough to pull off.
As the last into the race, Perry will face intense criticism from campaigns already up to speed and the media anxious for new story lines. It is also harder to sound innovative. (A lot of Perry’s kickoff speech may not have sounded fresh, if only because the other candidates have been saying the same thing for months.) Perry is already showing signs of a first-rate organization; now he has to show he is a first-rate campaigner.
UPDATE, 9:55 a.m., Aug. 16 : An earlier version of this blog post said that Kay Bailey Hutchinson was a former U.S. senator. She is still in the Senate. This version has been revised.
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