Rick Perry was in desperate need for a reboot, or maybe just a boot. The Texas governor entered the Republican presidential primary in August as a favorite among conservatives to challenge former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and win the party's nomination. But poor debate performances, a lack of specific policy proposals, and attacks from the right over his immigration policies lead to a freefall in the polls, and confirmed for critics that Perry wasn't ready for prime-time.
This week, Perry beefed up his staff with some new national political talent, released an economic plan to some applause, and went on the attack against his political rival. The new energy may be the shot in the arm his campaign needs, but in this primary season's compressed time frame, Perry's slow and delayed start may have already doomed him.
Perry's new team includes battle-hardened veterans of national political races, to complement his inner circle of Texas strategists. It includes Joe Allbaugh, a political consultant who helped George W. Bush win the Texas governorship and the presidency, and who also worked on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign. Perry also hired Curt Anderson, a former White House and Republican National Committee staffer who, ironically enough, worked for Romney's campaign during the 2008 GOP primary. Also coming in is Stanton Anderson, senior counsel to the Chamber of Commerce and a former staffer for Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign, along with four other national political pros. The hires may belie Perry's claim to be an anti-Washington outsider, but they'll help him win some GOP elites and donors who worry that Perry is all bluster and no specifics. "The new hires this week show he's making a serious commitment to policy," says Steven Duffield, a Republican strategist and former RNC staffer. They'll also help him run a national campaign, which Perry is learning can be quite different from running for a state-wide office in Texas.
Perry's informal circle of advisers also now includes magazine publisher Steve Forbes, who advised Perry on his flat tax plan, Perry's plan is modeled after Forbes's proposals during his own 1996 and 2000 White House runs. Forbes has long been icy to Romney, having, like Perry, endorsed Giuliani over him during the 2008 race. The flat tax plan which Perry unveiled on Tuesday, which would create a single 20 percent income tax for most Americans while giving them the option to keep with their current rate, was for the most part successful. Some analysts raised questions about the plan, but not more than would be expected in a presidential campaign.
But even that rollout was overshadowed a bit by Perry's ill-timed comments regarding the long-refuted Obama birth certificate controversy, demonstrating again the kind of shoot-from-the-hip lack of discipline which has raised doubts about his campaign. But overall, the move put Perry where he's most comfortable, as the rock-ribbed conservative challenger attacking Romney his most vulnerable position, his right flank.
Perry continued to seek a contrast with Romney by keeping up the heat on the Bay State governor, showing that Perry's media team is up to speed. During what should have been a low-news stop in Ohio, Romney flubbed the local politics, refusing to take a position on a ballot issue that would repeal the Ohio governor's bill to restrict the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Similar to the Wisconsin policy which caused so much controversy earlier this year, it's one of the most divisive issues in the state, and shouldn't have been difficult for Romney to articulate a position on it, especially since he announced his support for the bill months ago. But whether he was keeping an eye on the general election or was simply unprepared, it was a rare mistake for the disciplined Romney team, and Perry pounced on it. "Mitt Romney needs to realize that when you try to stand on both sides of an issue, you stand for nothing,"
Perry said in a released statement fired off quickly after the news broke. Perry's campaign also released its first TV ad, an upbeat Iowa commercial touting the governor's jobs record and promising to create 2.5 million jobs by repealing regulations in oil, gas, and other energy sectors.
But Perry has a tough hill to climb. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday shows that Perry is in fifth place with only 4 percent of registered Republicans supporting him, behind Roney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and businessman Herman Cain, who leads the poll with 28 percent. But if Cain is going to come back to Earth—as most political observers assume he must—then Perry may be well-positioned to pick up his supporters, although he'll have some competition from a rising Gingrich.
The problem is the calendar. If the New Hampshire primary is on January 10, as many expect, then there's only so much time for more candidate swings. There's no evidence yet that a Perry rebound is forming, but his campaign team is getting ready if there is one.
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- Read about Perry's tax plan.
- See political cartoons about the economy.