ADDISON, Texas — Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched his presidential campaign four years ago as an instant front-runner — a proven job-creator with solid conservative credentials, formidable fundraising prowess and perhaps enough cowboy swagger to take Republicans by storm.
Then came “Oops” and Perry’s tumble from powerhouse to punchline.
Now he’s back, hitting Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina hard and early, and studying up on policy to become better prepared.
A senior adviser to Perry tells The Associated Press that the former governor will make the widely expected announcement that he’s in the 2016 race on Thursday in Dallas. The adviser requested anonymity to speak ahead of the formal announcement.
As Perry returns to presidential politics, the question remains: Will he get another solid chance?
“It’s going to be hard to make a first impression a second time,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist in Washington.
Despite his brain freeze on a Michigan debate stage in November 2011 — he forgot the third federal agency he promised to close if elected, then muttered “Oops” — Perry still has the policy record that made him an early force last time.
Perry left office in January after a record 14 years as governor. Under him, the state generated more than a third of America’s new private-sector jobs since 2001.
While an oil and gas boom fueled much of that economic growth, Perry credits lower taxes, restrained regulation and limits on civil litigation damages. He also pushed offering economic incentives to lure top employers to Texas and repeatedly visited states with Democratic governors to poach jobs.
Perry was thought to be a cinch for four more years as governor in 2014, but instead turned back to White House ambitions. His effort may be complicated this time by a felony indictment on abuse of power and coercion charges, from when he threatened — then carried out — a veto of state funding for public corruption prosecutors. That came when the unit’s Democratic head rebuffed Perry’s demands that she resign following a drunken driving conviction.
Perry calls the case against him a political “witch hunt,” but his repeated efforts to get it tossed on constitutional grounds have so far proved unsuccessful. That raises the prospect he’ll have to leave the campaign trail to head to court in Texas.
Perry blamed lingering pain from back surgery in the summer of 2011 for part of the reason he performed poorly in the 2012 campaign. He has ditched his trademark cowboy boots for more comfortable footwear and wears glasses that give him a serious look.
Perry also traveled extensively overseas and studied policy with experts and economists at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He met such business moguls as Warren Buffett and Rupert Murdoch.
Lately, Perry has traveled to Iowa, which kicks off presidential nomination voting, more than any GOP White House candidate.
“People realize that what the governor did in the high-profile debate, stumble, everyone has done at some point in their lives,” said Ray Sullivan, Perry’s chief of staff as governor and communications director for his 2012 presidential bid. “I think he’s already earned a second look, particular in Iowa.”
“I think he’s kind of been freed up to be Rick Perry again,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas political consultant who was director of state and federal campaigns for tea party-backed FreedomWorks before managing the re-election campaign of veteran Sen. John Cornyn last year. “That’s going to give him a lot of freedom to do what he does best, which is talk to voters one-on-one, shake hands, do the small meetings.”
As an underdog, Perry has visited out-of-the-way places in Iowa, often traveling with a single SUV rather than the busloads in his 2012 entourage. Steinhauser said Perry shouldn’t “start out trying to be larger than life.”
One thing Perry hopes to emulate from 2012 is his fundraising, when he amassed $18 million in the first six weeks. He has strong donor contacts nationwide as a former Republican Governors Association chairman. However, his indictments may cause some to hesitate to write him checks.
Perry’s camp notes that many past Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney in 2012, rebounded to win the party’s presidential nomination after failing in a previous bid. But O’Connell, the GOP strategist, said the 2016 field is “extremely talented and deep” compared to four years ago.
“For him to win the nomination,” O’Connell said, “he’s going to have to be great, but a lot of people are going to have to trip and fall along the way.”
WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press
STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
Peoples reported from Washington.