A couple of days ago, all the political reporters could talk about was how Governor Rick Perry hadn’t been into the office much. But the governor changed the conversation on Tuesday when he received no less than seven reporters at the Capitol, almost as if he were telling Texas, “I’m still here and running the joint” before heading to tomorrow’s Republican presidential debate in Arizona, where he’ll be spinning for Newt Gingrich.

Perry discussed a wide range of topics in the interviews, including education, drought, the Rainy Day Fund, what went right and wrong during his presidential campaign, and the cost of his campaign security detail. 

But the key takeaway was clearly reflected in the headlines of Jay Root’s Texas Tribune piece (“Perry Leaning Towards a Run For Re-Election“) and Christy Hoppe’s story for the Dallas Morning News (“Rick Perry says he’s leaning toward another run for governor“).

According to Jason Embry of the Austin American-Statesman, “many Capitol insiders, including Perry allies, believe this is his last term,” but whether or not Perry intends to run again is probably not the point. 

“From the moment he dropped out of the presidential race, Perry has worked to send the message that he remains a viable candidate for governor and perhaps even for president in 2016,” Jim Henson, director of the University of Texas-Austin’s Texas Politics Project, told the TM Daily Post. “Fostering this impression is essential to maintaining his influence in the state, (and) judging by the propagation of the early headlines, I’d say the strategy has worked.”

As the Morning News‘ Hoppe wrote, “Many political observers believe one of the reasons Perry is hinting at another term is to strengthen his hand during the session and not be considered a lame-duck governor.”

That being the case, Henson noted that Perry’s target audience was not so much the voters as “the business and political communities.” 

Good thing, since the third part of a UT/Texas Tribune poll conducted by Henson and his colleague Daron Shaw, which was released this morning, found that Perry currently has a 38 percent approval rating and a 45 percent disapproval rating (with seventeen percent either neutral or unsure).

Around 39 percent said it was either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that they’d vote for Perry if he ran again in 2014, with 51 percent saying it was “somewhat unlikely” or “very unlikely.” 

Some other highlights from the Perry press blitz:

  • He told Peggy Fikac of the Houston Chronicle that being governor is a job he does “24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year” no matter where he is–so much so that he’d be willing to propose amending the state constitutional provision that calls for the lieutenant governor to take over any time the governor leaves Texas.
  • WFAA’s Brad Watson tweeted that Perry said the state’s water supply would be a top issue for 2013, that Perry expected there would be a new lite guv (i.e. he is predicting victory for David Dewhurst in the upcoming U.S. Senate race), and as for education:

  • Embry also reported that Perry thinks schools are adequately funded, but Embry noted that the governor did express support for Texas Education Association commisioner Robert Scott’s suggested tweaks to the new STAAR exam requirements (but only for one year). 
  • As for the 2016 presidential campaign, “It’s like [running for] governor. It’s an option,” Perry told Hoppe.

Here’s the Tribune’s complete interview with Perry: