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Rick Perry: My experience as Texas governor sets me apart in GOP field

Perry's counting on his state-level experience. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Rick Perry said in an interview Thursday that his long tenure as governor of Texas will set him apart from his potential rivals in the 2016 Republican presidential contest, pointing to President Obama's legislative career as a warning against picking a senator as the GOP nominee.

When asked how he differs from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a conservative firebrand, Perry cited his extended run as governor and his handling of several state crises.

“I think it’s one of the selling points, if you will, to the American people as they decide who is going to follow Barack Obama,” Perry said in a joint interview with The Washington Post and the Texas Tribune. “I think they’re going to make a rather radical shift away from a young, untested United States senator whose policies have really failed.”

He added, “They’re going to look for somebody that’s got the executive experience. And my feel, my advice, and my instinct is that they’re going to look for someone who has a substantial track record, someone who’s been tested and someone who has the results of what they put into place.”

Perry’s argument for a seasoned governor to lead his party in the next presidential election is the core of his latest pitch in recent meetings with GOP leaders in Iowa and other early primary states.

Cruz -- elected in 2012 and a favorite of the movement right -- has become a threat to Perry’s political comeback as both men eye a White House bid. Often drawing from the same pool of donors in Texas, they are also competing for the support of national conservative figures.

Perry said he made decisions and dealt with situations as governor that have prepared him to be president.

“I’ve got 14 years of being an executive," Perry said. "And a governor, whether it’s myself or other governors, you get up every day and you may face a challenge that you had no idea was coming, like a space shuttle that falls out of the sky in the eastern part of your state or a hurricane in a neighboring state that pushes hundreds of thousands of people into your state."

Former Texas governor Rick Perry talks with PostTV about his 2016 strategy, the ongoing controversy over vaccinations, and what he thinks the U.S. needs to do in the fight against the Islamic State. (Video: Pamela Kirkland and Julie Percha/The Washington Post)

Perry, who left office last month, has been busy traveling the country as he works to reintroduce himself to Republican voters following his disastrous and short-lived 2012 presidential campaign. He has also brought policy scholars to Austin to brief him and has met with GOP luminaries such as former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

Addressing the controversy this week over whether childhood vaccinations should be mandatory amid a rise in measles cases, Perry said national and state leaders should use their power to encourage shots. Two other 2016 GOP hopefuls, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggested vaccines should not be mandated.

“I think governors, elected officials, people in positions of authority and power and influence, should use those positions to make sure that the people they either represent or have the opportunity to work for are as healthy as they can be,” he said. “Obviously vaccines are a very important part of that.”

Perry said that when he came into office, “our vaccination rate in Texas was 65 percent. When I left two weeks ago, it was 95 percent.”

"We know that vaccines are a very, very important tool to keep our citizens safe," Perry said. "I think it’s important for us to stand up and say, ‘You need to vaccinate your children. You need to do everything you can to keep them and the other children and the people they come into contact with safe.’”

Perry was criticized by GOP competitors during the 2012 race for a mandate requiring that most girls in his state get inoculated against the human papillomavirus, a sexual infection that can lead to cervical cancer.

Meanwhile, Perry is adjusting to life outside of the governor’s mansion. He arrived at the Washington Post’s newsroom on Thursday carrying his coat and flanked by a couple of young aides -- a far cry from the large security detail and others who trailed him while he was governor.

“I had a pretty tony address,” Perry mused. He recalled the “fabulous” mansion’s “one square block of manicured lawn.” Now, he and his wife are in a “1,400-square foot, 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo, full of boxes, four dogs” as they wait for their next home to be built. He said it is an “interesting experience.”

“I moved my wife into a 600-square foot, one-room house when we got married, so it’s all relative,” Perry said.

Perry was scheduled to speak later Thursday to a Washington gathering of conservative activists hosted by the American Principles Project, an advocacy group that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) spoke to the same group over lunch about the Common Core initiative, a nationwide program of educational standards that has become anathema to many on the right.

In the interview, Perry said that his potential campaign would be founded on policy ideas tied to his record as governor, but he would embrace the process of retail politicking — the handshakes and shoulder grips — as well.

“I’m a more than passable retail politician and I think it shows,” Perry said.

On his way out of the building, Perry lingered for 15 minutes, complimenting a columnist on her stylish glasses, which slightly resembled his own Jean Lafont eyewear.