Perry's 'second chance' theme growing louder

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist DENNIS THOMAS

khou.com

Posted on March 26, 2014 at 10:32 AM

AUSTIN -- Gov. Rick Perry seems to be popping up just about everywhere lately.

Texas' longest serving governor made back-to-back appearances Tuesday morning on FOX News Channel's Fox and Friends and MSNBC's Morning Joe. As in other recent appearances, Perry touted Texas' record of job growth and acknowledged he's considering another presidential run in 2016.

"America is a place that is about second chances," Perry said on Morning Joe. A reference to his unsuccessful campaign to win the GOP nomination in 2012, the theme has become a frequent answer to questions about his future plans.

Hailed as the likely Republican frontrunner almost as soon as he entered the 2012 primary, Perry's campaign swiftly imploded after a series of perceived gaffes and poor debate performances were capped by a lackluster fifth-place showing in the Iowa caucuses.

Perry announced in 2013 he would not seek an unprecedented fourth term as governor, and has launched a nationwide tour and advertising campaign ostensibly aimed at touting the "Texas Miracle" of job growth. Perry's subsequent visits to early presidential contest states such as Iowa, coupled with an image makeover and new eyewear, strongly suggest Perry's focus is squarely on the White House. St. Edward's Political Science Professor Brian W. Smith sees the transformation as part of a broader effort to appear more serious.

"He's got to figure out a way to craft a new image, and this is what we're seeing," said Smith. "It's good to be liked, but people then have to trust him. And that's going to be the difficult thing, because this is where he really messed up in the past."

"I do think the appearance changes are to his benefit," said Bill Miller, a longtime political consultant and co-founder of Austin-based HillCo Partners.

Miller suggested Perry's evolution goes beyond replacing the "cowboy" persona that failed to carry the same resonance on the national stage as it did in his home state.

"He's got the sense of he's learned from his mistakes, he's better prepared. He also doesn't have the weight of high expectations," Miller said.

Despite being undefeated in every political campaign until the 2012 presidential contest, Perry's campaign proved unable to gain traction in the critical early primary states. Smith points to a number of factors, including an inability to effectively articulate his policy positions and a failure to define his own distinct space in a crowded GOP field.

Comparing Perry's decades of campaign experience at the state level to his disappointing national debut, Smith draws a comparison to a scene from the 1988 baseball film Bull Durham. Admonishing a talented but cocky minor league pitcher, the title character warns, "What you need is a curveball. In the show, everybody can hit a fastball."

"When Gov. Perry came up to the presidential level, he was throwing fastballs and other candidates were hitting them out of the park. They knew how to respond to them," said Smith. "He never was able to throw a curve, nor was he able to hit a curve in the sense that when candidates threw difficult questions at him, he didn't know how to respond. He flip-flopped, he flubbed, and so he looked like somebody who was not ready for the major leagues. What he's doing now is trying to get that major league image."

"I learned a lot. I mean it was one of the most humbling experiences I ever had," Perry said on Tuesday's edition of Fox and Friends. He also reminded the hosts, "You know I had major back surgery six weeks before the election kicked off."

Friendly appearances have showcased Perry's ability to win over an audience, whether by charming a critical crowd on the Jimmy Kimmel show during Austin's South by Southwest festival or by stirring conservative activists to thunderous applause at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference.

As for second chances, Smith says Perry's eyes are likely on his own party's history. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney both ran unsuccessfully before becoming the Republican presidential nominee. Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were elected president after previous unsuccessful campaigns.

"What we've seen with the Republicans is they tend to vote for people who have already tried, and also they learn from their mistakes," said Smith. Miller suggests along with learning from his mistakes and openly acknowledging them in interviews with media, Perry has also regained his confidence.

"Overall, it's a guy that has found his sea legs," said Miller. "He fell, he hit his head hard. People laughed at him -- couldn't be more embarrassing. And now he says, 'I'm back, I'm up. I'm going to show you something.' And I predict he'll do real, real well."

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