With his good hair and new horn-rimmed glasses, Rick Perry woke up this morning hoping Republicans will give him a second chance at making a first impression. Perry has an announcement scheduled at the Addison Airport north of Dallas. He is surrounding himself at the event with so many former Navy SEALs that if he’s not announcing for president, then he’s flying off immediately in a C-130 to stop a Bond villain a la You Only Live Twice — and “Twice is the only way to live.”
I’m betting on a run for president.
Perry told Christy Hoppe of The Dallas Morning News that he is a different man than he was when he entered the last contest in 2011 and then stumbled in a series of debates.
Perry has healed from the back surgery that hampered him through 2012. He has spent two years studying with experts in foreign relations, military preparedness and economics. He has traveled dozens of times to early primary states to establish a beachhead. He has ditched the cowboy boots and added glasses.
“It’s real different from last time,” Perry said in a recent interview. “You know I’m a different candidate than I was 3 1/2 years ago.”
The question before him is whether it’s too late.
In a crowded field of candidates at a time when Americans are disgusted with both major political parties, Perry’s first challenge is to break through the noise just to make the case that he is smarter than the 2011 campaign seemed to proclaim.
This is the season when I don’t put much stock in the horserace polls, because they tend to favor those with the best name recognition or who are in the news. More than one candidate in the past has been poised for a breakout only to be gone completely in a week. Remember, our former governor was the front-runner in 2011 until he defended his policy for in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants by saying if you don’t believe in educating children “you don’t have a heart.” Perry was in second place the next day and dropped to third by the time he melted down on national television by being unable to name the three agencies he wanted to eliminate. By late November, Perry’s 30 percent support among Republican primary voters had fallen to about four percent. Ooops.
The only real reason to pay attention to the horserace polling at this point is that Fox News has declared the first debate on August 6 will only feature the top ten candidates. And the second debate by CNN on September 16 will be split in two, with the top ten in one and everyone else in a second debate that might as well be called The Losers Bracket.
Looking at the Huffington Post Pollster compilations, Perry currently is in ninth place nationally and eleventh place in Iowa and New Hampshire. Today’s announcement should give Perry a slight bump, but any substantial rise in the polls will require television advertising or a crash by one of the frontrunners. The Iowa Straw Poll has been a traditional candidate booster, but this year it occurs after the first debate and many campaigns are choosing to pass on it as a waste of time and money. Perry entered the 2011 race after the poll, and it wasn’t his absence that hurt him.
The fact U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is ahead of Perry in the presidential polling is less a problem for our former governor than this week’s entry of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants but also has promised to kill Islamic extremists:
“If I’m president of the United States and you’re thinking about joining al-Qaeda or ISIL [Islamic State], I’m not gonna call a judge,” Graham said. “I’m gonna call a drone and we will kill you.”
Graham creates a problem for Perry because he becomes a blocker. Perry’s best bet for breaking toward the front of the pack is to make a solid showing among Iowa’s evangelical voters on February 1, 2016, and then gain momentum coming out of the South Carolina primary on February 20. Graham becomes South Carolina’s favorite son, though. Campaigns such as Perry and Cruz will have to decide whether they want to pass on South Carolina to concentrate on the Super Tuesday voting that includes Texas.
A new Washington Post/ABC poll shows Jeb Bush’s lead has evaporated and says no candidate can claim more than 11 percent support. The newspaper called the race a “muddled mess.” In this survey, Cruz is in seventh place with 8 percent support, and Perry is tied at 2 percent support with Austin-born Carly Fiorina.
Given that the margin of error is plus or minus six percentage points for questions about the state of the Republican nomination contest, it is easy to see why candidates in single digits may feel little discouragement about their standing, while those at the top are anything but secure. But absent participation in the summer and fall debates, rising up soon will probably depend on money and paid media.
All this is well and good, but the biggest wild card is how disgusted Americans are with the political parties. More than 60 percent of the Americans surveyed in recent weeks have said the U.S. is moving in the wrong direction and that they disapprove of Congress. President Obama is doing slightly better, but his disapproval rating is 50 percent.
In one recent survey, Jeb Bush has an unfavorable/favorable rating of 44/28; Ted Cruz, 37/28; Perry, 36/21; Scott Walker 25/22; and Mike Huckabee, 39/37. The best thing in Perry’s favor is that 42 percent said they do not have enough information for an opinion. And while Hillary Rodham Clinton still dominates the Democratic primary, a new CNN poll this week found her unfavorable rating to be the highest in more than a decade.
Nine months is plenty of time for things to change, but at the moment, the winter of 2016, is looking like voters will receive it as the Meh Presidential Primary season.