Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is accelerating efforts to explore another bid for the presidency. But few Republicans, including some past supporters, are excited at the prospect of him launching a second White House campaign.
Perry is making all the moves of a traditional candidate, with multiple visits to Iowa, an upcoming trip to South Carolina and a flurry of recent appearances on cable news networks.
The Texas governor’s biggest hurdles, say strategists, are overcoming voters’ memory of his infamous “oops” moment in a 2011 GOP debate, and convincing the big donors who fueled his campaign last time to stick with him over other contenders.
Perry also lacks the distinct early advantage he had in the last cycle of being an obvious conservative counterpart for Republicans concerned former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was too much of a centrist.
Even some of Perry’s 2012 backers say it’s unlikely he could rebound.
“The road ahead for Perry is very tough, there’s no question about it,” said one GOP strategist, who helped Perry’s campaign last time and asked for anonymity to speak frankly about the Texas governor’s prospects.
“You almost can’t overstate the damage that ‘oops’ and the poor debate performances did to Perry. Voters don’t judge each answer individually. They ask, ‘Can I see this guy as president or not,’ and he clearly just failed that test last time.”
Perry entered the 2012 GOP race as the front-runner, immediately jumping ahead in the polls and hauling in millions from donors who’d been looking for an alternative to Romney.
But his campaign failed to effectively organize the early states, and his poll numbers sank after repeated mistakes.
He was already floundering before the November 2011 debate where he failed to remember a third government agency he wanted to close, a memory lapse that led to his awkward “oops.”
Iowa state Sen. David Johnson (R), a prominent conservative who backed Perry last time, said he hadn’t ruled out backing him again. But Johnson said Perry would need to show significant improvement in organization and demonstrate a bigger commitment to barnstorm hard in Iowa.
“Now, are they willing to do that? You get burned once, and you wonder, ‘Can we go back to that again?’ It’s never good to be a loser at any level of politics,” Johnson says.
“I will work with any campaign if I can be shown that they’re in it to win and not just in it. That could very well be Gov. Perry another time around. But he’s got work to do.”
Perry has been running a full-court press to rehabilitate his national image since he announced he wouldn’t run for another term as Texas governor.
A recent Iowa visit included appearances with the Koch brothers’ group Americans for Prosperity, gun rights activists and various county Republican groups.
He’s scheduled to return to South Carolina in early December, four months after his last visit.
He’s also hit the talk show circuit hard. Even his detractors say he had a strong appearance debating Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on CNN’s “Crossfire” in September.
But Perry might have trouble raising money for a 2016 campaign despite a deep pool of GOP donors from which to draw. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another likely GOP candidate, would siphon off some of that support.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) might also run, and he has close ties with the fossil fuel industry and some major Houston donors.
If Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) decides to run, he might draw on Texas money with help from his brother, ex-President George W. Bush.
“There are several options this time for the big-money donors: [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie, [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio, [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker, and others. When [Perry] ran last time, they dumped $17 million into his account, and that won’t be there,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said.
“And it’s really hard to forget ‘oops,’ especially with Republicans worried about Hillary [Clinton].”
Perry has been self-deprecating on the stump about his past memory issues, but he’s argued voters will forgive him.
“Well, I think second chances are what America has always been about,” he told ABC News.
“I think history tells you that, for the Republican side anyway, nominees have all had to run more than once.”
Perry’s allies argue he’s learned from his mistakes and that he’ll enter early and barnstorm hard through the early-voting states should he choose to run.
Perry has also recovered from 2011 back surgery, which required him to take painkillers and some say might have caused his listless debate performances.
“[Perry’s] conservative record of success [in Texas] remains very strong. His challenge this time is to overcome some of the impressions left by the 2011-2012 campaign, debate performance preparedness, et cetera,” said Ray Sullivan, a longtime Perry ally who was the governor’s 2012 communications director.
“He’ll have more of a luxury to build his grassroots and fundraising network, and hone his message and skills on the trail outside of that white-hot spotlight that greeted him in the fall of 2011.”
But other Republicans say that there are few signs that Perry has fundamentally changed.
Many of the staff members who ran his listless 2012 campaign remain, and his basic message has not changed from a focus on social conservatism and Texas’s economic growth.
Former Iowa Republican Party Political Director Craig Robinson says he saw little new from Perry during his recent campaign events in the Hawkeye State.
“The big difference was he was wearing some trendy eyeglasses. I just didn’t see this reincarnation of this great politician we missed out on in 2012. He seems like the same guy we saw,” Robinson says. “I’m not convinced that he can do it. I didn’t see much different from him in his last visit than I saw the last time.”