ADDISON, Tex. — Four years after a disastrous first campaign for the White House, former Texas governor Rick Perry announced here Thursday that he will try again, and the contrast between then and now could hardly be greater.
Perry made it official Thursday at an airplane hangar north of Dallas, where he was surrounded by military veterans and with a C-130 transport plane, which he flew in the Air Force, as his backdrop.
Perry’s announcement included sharp criticism of President Obama’s leadership at home and abroad. Perry said it is time to reset the relationship between the government and its citizens.
“We have the power to make things new again,” he said. “To project American strength again, to get our economy going again. And that is why today I am running for the presidency of the United States of America.”
He promised to return power to the states, boost economic growth, reform the tax code, tackle entitlement programs, reduce federal regulations, secure the border, protect the middle class and build the Keystone XL pipeline. Internationally, he said he would, as president, rescind any nuclear agreement with Iran negotiated by the Obama administration.
Perry said 2016 would be a “ ‘show-me, don’t tell me’ election, where voters look past the rhetoric to the real record. The question of every candidate will be this one: When have you led? Leadership is not a speech on the Senate floor; it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.”
Perry served for governor of Texas for 14 years, longer than anyone else in history, and he stressed his executive experience as an asset. But as he begins his second campaign, he continues to be trailed by questions about how he can overcome the negative impressions he left after his first campaign.
Perry is the 10th Republican to announce for president this year, with more coming. Earlier on Thursday, former Florida governor Jeb Bush sent out a message saying he would make his announcement on June 15. The field Perry joins is not only larger than that of four years ago but also far stronger in experience and the qualifications of many of the aspirants.
When Perry announced his candidacy four years ago, he seemed an almost perfect candidate to compete for the Republican nomination. He was a long-serving Texas governor in a party whose political base was in the South. He governed during a period of rapid growth and job creation in his native state. His anti-Washington instincts made him a tea party darling before there was a tea party. He had never lost an election.
Within weeks of his announcement, he was atop the polls, a major threat to the front-runner, Mitt Romney. But within weeks of those achieving those lofty poll numbers, Perry’s candidacy was in a rapid descent, caused by his opponents’ attacks and his own maladroit performances in early debates.
Perry stumbled trying to defend his earlier criticism of Social Security and a Texas program that offered in-state college tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. By the time he said “oops” on a debate stage in Michigan (he couldn’t remember all the agencies in Washington he planned to zero out as president), his candidacy was already history, as he has since admitted.
He begins his second campaign near the bottom of the big field of GOP candidates, registering in low single digits in early polls, lightly regarded by many of his rivals, ignored or dismissed by many in the media and struggling for the kind of attention that a politician who led one of the nation’s most populous states might normally command.
But he and his advisers think that, if he was overestimated but ill-prepared four years ago, he is the opposite now, underestimated and in their judgment readier for the challenges that a presidential campaign presents.
These advisers say that a second campaign is not simply a quest for redemption on Perry’s part but that he is motivated out of a belief that he has something to offer his party and the country.
Talk privately to strategists working for other candidates, and they say that, though he is a likable politician and one who could cause other candidates problems, they do not see him as genuine competition for the nomination.
Many share the view of Matthew Dowd, who helped former president George W. Bush win two elections to the White House and is now an independent analyst. Dowd sees an extremely difficult road ahead for Perry, owing to the impressions he made four years ago.
Asked about Perry’s prospects of becoming the GOP nominee, Dowd said: “I wouldn’t say impossible but very difficult. . . . The caricature has been made of him, and it’s hard to get out of it.”
Matt Rhoades, who as Romney’s campaign manager saw Perry as enough of a threat in late summer 2011 to move aggressively to bring him down, offered a dissenting view: suggesting that people are foolish to write off the former governor as an afterthought in the nomination battle.
“Gov. Perry has worked hard and done the right things to reposition himself for a run in 2016,” Rhoades, the founder of the conservative political action committee America Rising, said in an e-mail message. “I believe his candidacy will have a major impact on the primary and voters will give him a second chance.”
Perry has new obstacles in addition to the memories of his first campaign. He was effective at raising money four years ago but will have to compete for Texas money with fellow Texan Sen. Ted Cruz, and with Bush, whose Texas roots give him claim to Lone Star State contributions. Perry also remains under indictment for abuse of power as governor. His attorneys sought unsuccessfully to have the indictment thrown out.
Perry long has been open about the mistakes of his first campaign, saying at one point last year that he was “a bit arrogant” in thinking he could suddenly jump into that race with minimal preparation. He also entered shortly after major surgery for a back ailment and was plagued by health problems for weeks that he said affected his candidacy. In the intervening years, he has devoted himself to policy briefings, some foreign travel, trips to the early states — all in contrast with his previous campaign.
Ray Sullivan, who served as one of Perry’s senior advisers during the governorship and 2012 bid but who is not formally a part of the 2016 campaign, said he expects that voters will take a fresh look.
“When he entered in 2011, he gave himself and our campaign team six weeks to prepare,” Sullivan said. “He entered the race as a front-runner and had no ramp-up time and no room for really any error. He clearly learned from that experienced and is a much better prepared, more informed campaigner for it.”
Perry stressed his experience in his speech Thursday. “I have been tested,” he said. “I have led the most successful state in America. I have dealt with crisis after crisis — from the disintegration of a space shuttle, to hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike, to the crisis at the border, and the first diagnosis of Ebola in America.”
In his season of preparation, Perry has offered himself as a fiscal conservative with a sterling record of economic success during his time in office; a social conservative in good standing with the Republican right; and an optimistic leader who will provide muscular leadership whether in dealing with the issue of immigration by securing the U.S.-Mexican border or taking on Islamic State militants and other foreign policy challenges.
Many of his themes this year were the same ones that were supposed to boost him four years ago. “We did a horrible job of telling that story last time,” a senior Perry adviser, who declined to be identified in order to speak openly, said. “We jumped in and thought everybody knew that story. The American people are going to see a very different Rick Perry.”
Like his many rivals, Perry has taken part in candidate forums, made quieter trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, and counts on his retail skills as a candidate to win over voters who still have negative impressions. He has won applause and some plaudits for robust rhetorical skills, and some voters who have seen him over the past year say he is not the same candidate they remember from 2012.
So far none of this has translated into significant support. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, released earlier this week, showed Perry at 2 percent nationally among registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, tied for 12th place among 16 candidates tested. In the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls, he is 10th on the list of candidates.
The polls may be only an early snapshot, certain to change with time, but they are important now because they will be used to determine who is invited to participate in the first two GOP debates later this summer. Perry is at risk of not being among the 10 candidates on the stage, though his advisers say they are confident he will be among the candidates in the opening debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6.
Perry’s path begins in Iowa, seen by other Republicans as the linchpin state where he must finish in at least the top three. He is far from that today, standing 11th at 3.3 percent in the most recent Bloomberg Politics-Des Moines Register Poll, though history says there could be considerable movement among the candidates there before next year’s caucuses.
His advisers also concede that, after his 2012 campaign, there is little margin of error. Some other candidates have had small stumbles this year but have not paid a significant price. Perry can ill-afford any such missteps.
In that sense, Perry will be running, at least for the time being, against the image of his last candidacy as much or more than against any of the others in the field. Said one Perry loyalist, “He has to continue to grind it out — and do well.”