Republicans — and several possible 2016 foes — are rallying behind Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) after his indictment Friday on charges of coercion of a public official and abuse of official capacity.
Although the charges have provided fodder for Democratic attacks, the indictment could actually give the Texas governor an unintentional boost within the GOP field.
In a series of defiant press conferences and media appearances on Monday, Perry and his legal team pledged to fight the indictment “with everything I have.” He made a full-court press on conservative media, appearing both on Sean Hannity’s radio show and calling into Red State’s Erick Erickson's show.
A parade of potential 2016 GOP hopefuls uncharacteristically banded together in defense of the governor, with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie all speaking out in his support.
Notably absent from that parade, however, was Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who memorably sparred with the governor over Perry’s criticism of his foreign policy views last month.
But Paul’s father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul — and one of Perry’s 2012 presidential opponents — did defend Perry, saying while he’s a “disaster” on many things, the indictment is “really a joke.”
But the critics Perry needs to win over aren’t his fellow Republican rivals. After a disappointing sixth place finish two years ago, the stakes are high if he is eyeing the White House.
Now, his supporters believe his rebrand gives Granite State voters a reason to take a second look at a potential presidential contender who “crashed and burned spectacularly” in the state during his 2012 bid, as Jim Merrill, who then served as head of Mitt Romney’s campaign there, put it.
Then, Perry barely contested the state, finishing last among the more prominent GOP contenders. He routinely finishes among the bottom three in most current polling of the potential 2016 GOP field. Rand Paul, with his libertarian views, and Christie, who’s just next door to the state, are seen as the front-runners.
Merrill said that although New Hampshire voters are receptive to him and “the jury’s out on Rick Perry,” the governor will “have a much smaller margin of error than others because of how badly things went in 2012.”
That said, the indictment — and Democratic attacks on Perry centered around it — could soften the skepticism of New Hampshire Republicans when he heads to the state for a series of events with activists this weekend.
Mike Dennehy, Perry’s New Hampshire liaison, told The Hill Monday that while “of course [Perry’s] developing relationships with the people you need to develop relationships with if you’re running for president,” Perry’s team is not yet talking about a presidential campaign.
He said the governor’s schedule in the state currently includes no “one-on-one meetings with really anyone” that might support a 2016 bid. But regardless, Dennehy said he believes the indictment “will only help in every area.”
The border crisis “elevated his profile” in New Hampshire, Dennehy said, and “this incident on Friday has gotten people even further intrigued.”
“It has absolutely helped elevate him, and I believe in the long run it helps his reputation as a guy who stands up for what’s right,” Dennehy added.
Still, others are skeptical that he can make any inroads at all in the Granite State.
“I don’t think Rick Perry in New Hampshire is viable,” said one Republican operative there who has worked on presidential races. “I don’t see him gaining traction here, and I think he’s going to have a struggle nationally. Timing and first impressions in politics are everything.”