With former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) narrowly missing the top ten cutoff to be invited to the main Republican debate this Thursday, his campaign and PAC supporters remain determined and confident that he will prove to be a competitive candidate.
Breitbart News spoke exclusively to several key members of Team Perry, and while they would clearly prefer for their candidate to be higher in the polls, they were still confident that his record in Texas, solid fundraising base, and overall campaign strategy would give him the time needed to reintroduce himself to voters and gain momentum. This reporter has previously described their approach to this campaign as “cool and confident,” and that attitude was evident on Tuesday.
“History is proof that nothing is over this early in the campaign,” campaign manager Jeff Miller told Breitbart News. Throughout this campaign, Miller has touted Perry’s record, describing him as “someone who has a stronger track record than anyone else potentially in the field, that has the potential to do for the country what he did for Texas.”
Miller has a good point about history, as shown by the 1992 Democratic presidential primary. Bill Clinton, who would go on to win the nomination and then the presidency, was ranked 13th with an average of 1.7 percent in the polls taken from January to June 1991, according to FiveThirtyEight blogger Nate Silver. Silver also points out that Jimmy Carter was a similar longshot, ranked 12th with 1 percent in June 1975.
Austin Barbour, the Senior Adviser for the Opportunity and Freedom PAC that is supporting Perry, described the Texan as “on a similar glide path as Rick Santorum had” during the 2012 campaign, building up support gradually and turning in strong performances in the early states. “We have to be patient,” Barbour told Breitbart News. “[Perry’s favorability ratings] are as high as anybody in the race and we know that the ballot will catch up eventually.”
It is well known that Perry’s prior presidential effort was a roller coaster ride, rocketing to the top of the polls when he launched his campaign, only to crash back down after a series of debate missteps in the fall of 2011, and then dropping out shortly after the start of 2012.
This year, Rick Perry has had trouble breaking through, despite what many political commentators viewed as a strong campaign announcement and a more serious message. Getting any media attention as part of the overwhelmingly crowded field of seventeen Republican presidential candidates is hard enough; with Donald Trump dominating the media’s attention, it has become even more challenging. Several Perry insiders have expressed frustrations with how Trump has hogged the spotlight but have also expressed their beliefs that Perry’s current steady pace will be more sustainable.
On paper, Perry has done a lot of things right that, in most election cycles, would have been sufficient to put him in the middle of the pack, if not make him a top contender. Texas’s record on economic and job issues alone is something that any candidate would love to have on their resume—especially as the nation struggles through the aftermath of the Great Recession—and the successful criminal justice reforms enacted during Perry’s tenure have become a model for dozens of states and even the federal government. He is one of the only two Republicans with military experience (the other being Graham) in an election cycle where national security is expected to be a top issue. But Perry has languished in the single digits, and even a series of well-publicized spats with Trump failed to jump-start his numbers.
As Breitbart News reported, many have criticized the selection criteria for relying on national polls of registered voters, which is unrepresentative of the highly engaged voters who will show up to the early states’s presidential primaries and caucuses.
Mathematically, there are also issues with so many candidates within a point or two of each other, their differences within the margin of error. For example, the most recent Fox News poll (conducted July 30th through August 2nd) had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent. This means that there is no statistical difference between Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), who made the top ten cutoff with each receiving 3 percent, and Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), former Gov. George Pataki (R-NY), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-VA), who fell below. Other polls that affected the rankings had even higher margins of error.
Still, those polls matter, and Perry was knocked out of the top ten over the past few weeks. Thursday’s debate, hosted by Fox News, will include the top ten ranked Republican candidates in the prime time 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time slot. Perry and the other contenders who fell short will be included in an earlier 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time debate.
Perry’s team, like Fiorina’s, see the silver lining in the earlier debate. “We are looking forward to it!” Miller told Breitbart News, adding that they viewed this debate as “a thoughtful discussion on the future of America with no sideshows.” Joining Perry at the 5:00 p.m. debate will be Santorum, Fiorina, Jindal, Graham, Pataki, and Gilmore, who Miller described as “all serious individuals.”
Jordan Russell, spokesman for the PAC, had predicted a few hours before the official debate lineup was announced that if Perry missed the top ten cutoff, “it will be by half a point between him and Kasich,” and they would not be discouraged if that did happen.
“Obviously, we would like for him to be in the main event,” continued Russell, but the earlier event would give Perry “some more time to lay out his views and chance to be heard.”
What will be critical for Perry is to turn in a solid and statesmanlike performance on Thursday. The earlier scheduled time should not be too much of a detriment: this early in the election cycle and with many families still enjoying the last weeks of their summer vacations, neither Perry’s debate nor the prime time one are expected to bring in huge ratings. However, with the twenty-four hour news cycle and online journalism, any noteworthy clips are certain to reach an audience far wider than the live viewers.
Because of Perry’s past debate stumbles, he will face a higher degree of scrutiny. At the Voters First forum in New Hampshire on Monday, many of the candidates gave answers that did not completely address the moderator’s question, but Perry’s answer for which government agencies he would cut—a question that caused one of his infamous debate flubs in 2011—attracted more press attention. More than one Perry insider admitted that his answer was a bit rambling but sharply disputed any characterization of his performance as “gaffes.”
Russell described Perry’s performance as “funny and in command of his facts… he did a good job highlighting his record,” but the former Governor’s sense of humor was praised by people not on any Perry payroll too.
National Review noted, approvingly, that “[t]his time, Perry did not lose track of his thoughts halfway through his answer.” The Des Moines Register called his answer the “best lightheaded moment” of the evening, and said that Perry “employed grace and humor to handle a sore subject.” The Register also quoted several top Iowa Republicans who did not seem bothered that he did not directly answer the question. “I think he is using tonight to prove that he deserves a do-over,” said former Iowa State Senator Jeff Angelo. “And I think that Republicans watching…will be willing to do that.” Former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Danny Carroll said that Perry was “the best I’ve seen him.”
The Register article was one of a number of positive reviews that Perry insiders pointed out as evidence of his viability as a candidate and ability to win people over. “Our supporters are not wavering,” said Russell, who said that they were not going to worry too much about the national polls, because the actual nomination was not won by national polls, but state by state, and he was certain that they would “have the resources necessary to compete” throughout the early state primaries. “We know Governor Perry’s got as good of a ground game as anybody in Iowa,” said Barbour. “And that’s what’s going to matter at the end of the day.”
On that issue of fundraising, Breitbart News reported last month that Perry’s campaign was off to a solid start, raising nearly 18 million dollars between the campaign and several PACs. “We’re doing fine on that front and we are going to continue to do fine on that front,” said Russell. Barbour added that the PAC had “plenty of financial resources to support Perry throughout this process.”
Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder, who has covered Perry’s tenure as governor extensively as a journalist and in a book she wrote in 2014 on Texas, found validity in Team Perry’s confidence and also believes that he will prove to be a tough competitor. The 2012 conservative frontrunner failing to make the top ten debate cutoff “made a good story,” said Grieder, and she understood why so many media outlets were jumping on it. However, she continued, she did not expect that narrative to survive for long.
“It’s a long campaign, the field’s so huge, and he’s the underdog right now,” she continued, acknowledging Perry’s challenges, but added that his record in Texas was so strong, he “has a good team, and he’s prepared this time,” that she expected that people would soon “see that they underestimated him.”
“It’s just going to make it a much better story when he comes surging back like Seabiscuit,” Grieder concluded.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.