Rick Perry spent 2014 doing exactly what aspiring presidential candidates do: traveling repeatedly to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, giving speeches on behalf of himself and local candidates. He hasn’t disguised his ambitions, saying repeatedly that he’d like to run again and promising a better campaign.
Perry impressed in Iowa, where he gave “the most electrifying speech” at the Iowa State Fair. Important GOP leaders in Iowa like Bob Vander Plaats praised what appeared to be a complete turnaround from Perry’s strange, dissonant 2012 communication style. In South Carolina this month, Perry told conservatives that they’ll “see him again” because “I’ve got about 60 more days of being the governor of the state of Texas and then I’m going to do something different.” Perry barnstormed cities all over New Hampshire this week, making clear to local Republicans that he was there to get an early start on earning their next presidential vote. He also said he wouldn’t make an official move until spring of 2015.
Perry made an extra effort to ingratiate himself with the new Republican senators. He headlined rallies for both Thom Tillis in North Carolina and for Joni Ernst in Iowa. Perhaps most importantly, he also donated via his RickPAC to Republicans not just in these states but also in New Hampshire.
In North Carolina, he bragged: “We’ve created more jobs than any other state in the nation. We have shown the rest of the country, here’s how you can make a real difference. You’re about five years behind that in North Carolina.” As cloying as that may sound, it’s not necessarily a bad pitch. Texas is a rare prominent state in which every single statewide politician is a Republican. In other states, like North Carolina and Iowa, Republicans seamlessly blame any Democrat for all political woes.
The polling data is not as bad as it could be for Perry, despite his public face-falling last go-around. But it’s not great either. According to Real Clear Politics’ averages, in Iowa Perry is tied for 7th with Ted Cruz. In New Hampshire, it’s worse; he’s in 9th place. In South Carolina, which most observers consider his strongest potential primary state, pollsters haven’t included him in surveys thus far.
But Perry will have been out of office for a year when Iowa kicks off primary season in January 2015. That’ll keep him out of the news significantly. His apparent antidote to this problem appears to have already begun in earnest. When Cruz got himself in thousands of news stories with his “Obamacare for the Internet” claim about net neutrality, Perry burrowed his head down further into Republican sand by claiming the proposed regulations are leftover bad ideas from the Great Depression. Surely, Perry got nowhere near the coverage Cruz did, but it’s clear he’ll try to piggyback on every Washington issue from now on. It’s not that big of a divergence — he’s been a nationally-focused governor since at least 2008 — and once he announces his candidacy, all his claims will receive an attention boost. For that reason alone, Perry may be one of the very first to hop in.
In the 2012 GOP primary, Republicans cycled through preferences for almost every single candidate running. There’s no reason to believe that won’t happen again this year. We’ll only know Perry’s viability when the spotlight lands on him. Ultimately, it may not be enough to win — but it’s entirely possible that isn’t the point. If he can put together a competent campaign, and maybe even make some noise in Iowa or South Carolina, that may be all he needs to ride off into the sunset. To more-or-less shake off the humiliation of 2012 may be what Perry’s after. Once his hat is in the ring, that decision is in the hands of party-loyal Republican primary voters. Without a clear “runner-up” from last cycle (who they usually choose as the nominee), it’s hard for anyone to know what’s around the corner.