Supporters of former Governor Rick Perry (R-Texas) announced on Thursday the formation of a new Super PAC, the Opportunity and Freedom PAC. The PAC was described in a press release from the group as “a super PAC which will educate voters on Perry’s record as Governor of Texas and promote his vision for the future of America.” Perry has not yet officially declared that he is running for president, but is widely assumed to be preparing for a second attempt at the White House.
Breitbart Texas reached out to the organizers, and spoke with Austin Barbour, the PAC’s Senior Adviser. Barbour is the nephew of former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and the brother of Henry Barbour, who has unofficially advised Perry over the years and was the subject of criticism from conservatives for his role in advising a Super PAC during last year’s Mississippi Senate race.
The PAC’s launch included the traditional online media outreach — a website plus Facebook and Twitter accounts — plus an online video that focuses on Perry’s humble beginnings in Paint Creek, Texas and his economic record during his fourteen years as Governor.
“How does a country that’s lost find its way back?” asks the narrator of the video. “Start in a place called Paint Creek, Texas…where, in a farmhouse with no indoor plumbing, a boy named Rick Perry learned lessons of strength, resilience, and faith in God.”
This focus on Perry’s upbringing is intentional, Barbour told Breitbart Texas, who described the story of Perry growing up in Paint Creek “in a house with no running water” to go on to Texas A&M University, serve in the Air Force, and then become Texas’ longest serving governor, as a “great American story.”
“When we tell that story, we’ll allow voters around the country to really relate to him,” said Barbour. “He didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth…he had to work very hard to get where he is, and everyone can relate to that.” All the potential Republican presidential candidates have their own success stories, acknowledged Barbour, “but they sure don’t have a story like [Perry] does.”
As expected, the Texas economy will also be a major focus for the PAC. “Listen, you look at the Texas jobs story, it’s just unbelievable what he’s done in 14 years as governor,” said Barbour, mentioning the joke about how the state bird of Texas is now the construction crane.
Other key people involved in the PAC are Tony Russo, also serving as Senior Adviser, and two of Perry’s former chiefs of staff, Ray Sullivan and Mike Toomey. “As governor, Rick Perry dealt with hurricanes, wildfires, a space shuttle explosion, and the federal government’s failure to secure our border,” Toomey said in a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas. “In all these circumstances displayed an ability to take decisive action. He always leads from the front.” Sullivan concurred, adding that “Governor Perry’s economic record is without equal,” mentioning the more than two million new jobs that were created in Texas during his tenure.
FEC records show that Perry’s most recent chief of staff, Kathy Walt, was recently appointed treasurer of RickPAC, a leadership PAC that has been promoting Perry for some time, most notably after his indictment last year for vetoing the funding for the Public Integrity Unit after the Travis County District Attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg refused to resign despite being arrested for drunk driving and an embarrassing jailhouse video that showed her being abusive to law enforcement officers.
“This is going to be a really serious group,” said Barbour, remarking that the involvement of Sullivan and Toomey bring “instant credibility” to the PAC because they know Perry so well, and have an intimate knowledge of his policies and accomplishments as governor from their years working for him as chief of staff.
With Perry not yet officially a candidate, and federal campaign finance laws prohibiting coordination between candidates and this type of PAC, Barbour and the others involved with the PAC have to operate independently. Barbour told Breitbart Texas that at this point, he was not aware if Perry had “100 percent decided” to run for President or not, but their goal was to make sure they were ready to “aggressively support” him if he did throw his hat into the ring.
A significant part of that support will be strategic and grassroots support in the early primary states, especially Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. “We’ll look at all the different avenues to support him if he decides to run,” said Barbour, “and I’m confident we’ll have the necessary funding to support him.”
Breitbart Texas asked Barbour what he thought was Perry’s biggest challenge facing him in a new campaign. “He’s gotta show voters, and show donors, ‘I have a command of these issues and I’m ready to be Commander-in-Chief,'” said Barbour, “and I think he’s been able to do that.” Barbour said that the feedback he has heard from people, both in the media and voters, is that people are willing to give Perry a “second look.”
Perry’s recent speech at CPAC was part of that critical effort to get voters to give him a second look, and his remarks, with an emphasis on national security issues, received positive reviews.
Comparing 2016 to the Republican field in 2012, Barbour acknowledged that it was a “different field in 2016…a much deeper field,” but said that he felt that when comparing Perry to the competition, “no question he’s as conservative…he checks all the boxes.”
Barbour described Perry as a “strong conservative” who was certainly not moderate, but not too far to the right to get elected, as someone who related naturally to both fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. Another advantage for Perry, he added, was that he would likely be the only military veteran in the race. The only other potential 2016 Republican candidate is Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), but neither early polls nor political observers view Graham as a viable Presidential candidate even in his home state.
Military veterans and their families are a “very large voting bloc,” said Barbour, “and [Perry] can go and talk to all these different groups — tea party voters, veterans, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives — not many candidates have the diversity to be able to do that.”
“He’s far and away the best retail politician running for president,” said Barbour, “and that matters in Iowa” and the other early primary states.
Federal campaign finance laws require Super PACs to stay independent from the candidates they support, but they are allowed to raise and spend unlimited funds. Perry himself acknowledged the creation of the PAC and thanked them on Twitter after the announcement was made public.
.@OppandFreedom: I appreciate the support!
— Rick Perry (@GovernorPerry) March 5, 2015
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.