Update: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry makes second presidential bid official.
ADDISON, Texas – Rick Perry wants a second chance.
The longest-serving governor in Texas history, Perry shot to the front of the pack in the 2012 presidential race as soon as he announced his candidacy. But his campaign turned out to be one embarrassing moment after the other — ending in the now-infamous “oops” on the debate stage when he couldn’t name the third agency of government that he would eliminate. It made him a laughingstock.
“I’ve been the front-runner,” Perry told msnbc in an interview earlier this year. “Best three hours of my life.”
Now Perry is set to announce a second — and this time, long-shot — bid for president. He’ll do so on Thursday from his home state of Texas, where he’ll stand in front of an enormous airplane emblazoned with “Perry for President.” Joining him is Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL made famous in the movie “Lone Survivor,” and by the widow of Chris Kyle, the focus of the film “American Sniper.” It’s all aimed at highlighting Perry’s military experience — he served in the Air Force — at a time when foreign policy is at the forefront of the campaign. Perry will also focus on his economic record as Texas governor; he says he created 1.8 million new jobs during his tenure. They’re themes he’s also been emphasizing on the campaign trail in recent months, especially in New Hampshire, where veterans are a key voting bloc.
One potential problem, though: An indictment back home for abuse of power. Perry insists the charges — based on his cutting funding for a public integrity office after its head refused to resign following a drunken driving arrest — are entirely political. But the case hasn’t been quickly dismissed, as his campaign team insisted they would be.
It’s also not clear whether the credentials he built as governor are enough to make Republican primary voters forgive and forget their first impression. Perry has vowed it will be different this time, and has spent the last year trying to demonstrate that. He has a new look: Now he wears glasses, and sneakers have replaced his trademark cowboy boots — the better to help a bad back that he says contributed to his poor performance in 2012. He’s been building a new group of campaign and policy advisers, taking the months before he left the governor’s office to convene experts to help him study up on foreign and energy policy.
“The highest office in this country and the most influential position in the world requires an extensive amount of preparation,” he has said. “I was a bit arrogant — I mean, I was elected governor three times, what could be harder than that?”
And, he said, he’s in a new, healthier phase of life, as years have passed since the 2011 back surgery that made the already brutal presidential campaign schedule even more grueling.
“Back surgery six weeks before running for president, I don’t recommend that for being at the top of your game,” Perry has said.
Convincing voters to give him another look is just the first challenge facing Perry’s bid. In 2012, Perry came into a relatively weak field as conservatives were eager to find a strong challenger for Mitt Romney. This time, his challenge will be standing out in an increasingly large field of candidates that’s likely to include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as well as Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
Cruz and Bush are a particular challenge. Much of Perry’s strength in 2012 came from his ability to raise millions from deep-pocketed Texas donors — many of whom have longtime ties to the Bush family. A key test for Perry’s bid in 2016 will come when initial fundraising reports are made public in July; his advisers privately claim that he will post one of the most impressive totals, but a poor showing could hamper him even further.
But Perry is still one of the strongest retail campaigners in the 2016 field — and so far, he’s shown he’s willing to work for it. Already, Perry has been holding events in towns across Iowa and New Hampshire, persisting even with small crowds and few reporters to document his speeches, impressing some conservative activists.
“I think over the course of the last two years, people realize that what they saw in 2011 is certainly not the person they’re looking at at 2013, 2014, 2015,” Perry told msnbc in December.