Team Perry Plays it Cool and Confident

Rick Perry announcement cropped
Cassi Pollock/Breitbart Texas
Austin, TX

Former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) is not leading the pack of GOP presidential contenders, as he briefly did four years ago, but his campaign is confident that his experience and message will not only ensure he makes the cut for the upcoming debates, but that he will be a top competitor for the party’s nomination.

As Breitbart News reported, the most recent Fox News poll showed Perry receiving 2 percent of the vote in an increasingly crowded Republican field. The key question facing the candidates right now is who will be in the top ten, and qualify for the debate. The issue is complicated by not only the sheer size of the field, but the extremely small difference between the candidates, especially among the middle and lower tiers.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the margin of error in the recent polls means that for these candidates who are all within a point or two of each other, it is impossible to tell who is actually ahead of whom. As Breitbart News noted:

The five point margin of error in the Fox News poll means that if you repeated it many times with new randomized samples of this same population of nationwide Republican voters, the results could vary as much as five points higher or lower than what this poll showed…[T]he poll results for Huckabee and all the candidates ranked lower than his 6 percent [including Perry] all fall within the margin of error. This is the group most at risk for losing a spot on the debate stage, but the statistical data we have is far from precise.

It should be noted how few voters could significantly swing the results when the candidates are so close to each other. Out of a sample of 378 Republican voters, only 4 voters changing their minds about a candidate would move the results more than a percentage point (1 percent of 378 is 3.78, rounding up to the nearest whole person is 4). The difference between Rubio at 8 percent and Perry at 2 percent could be as few as 22 voters.

Technically, Perry was in the “top ten” in that latest Fox News poll, due to several candidates who were tied, but in the Fox News article about the poll results, it reported that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) had received 2 percent, but omitted any mention of Perry or Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), both of whom received the exact same score. (Perry and Kasich’s results were reported in the full polling memo that Fox News posted.)

The challenge now for Perry is to convince voters who think they know him and a cynical political press corps that he is a serious contender. So far, Team Perry appears to be making the right moves. The critical question will be if those right moves are being made quickly enough to provide Perry with the momentum he needs over the next few months.

The story of Perry’s roller coaster ride in the fall of 2011 has been well covered. A late entry to the race after back surgery, Perry surged to the top of the polls, cheered on by Republican primary voters who were seeking a conservative alternative to former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA). Perry, to his credit, readily admits that the combination of his short period of preparation, lingering problems in his surgical recovery, and obligations as the Governor of Texas, created challenges for him during the 2012 campaign. After a series of debate missteps, Perry’s poll numbers cratered at the end of 2011, and he dropped out of the race in January 2012.

This time around, Perry and his campaign team have been pursuing a more deliberate and steady path. Not as exciting as the 2012 campaign, but hopefully on a stronger and more stable foundation. Perry has openly discussed the serious policy study he has undertaken during the past few years, and turning over the keys to the Governor’s Mansion to Greg Abbott in January means that he is healthy and free from competition for his energy and focus.

His announcement at the beginning of this month, surrounded by supportive veterans, won accolades from a skeptical political press. The tone of the campaign is different as well. Whereas 2012 Perry seemed almost singularly focused on touting the incredible economic success of Texas, 2016 Perry has a much broader message. His military experience is front and center, as seen in his patriotic campaign launch, and in a series of policy speeches and interviews he has given regarding abuses at VA hospitals and a “peace through strength” national security message. He is also driving a much deeper discussion of Tenth Amendment issues and the proper balance of power between the federal government and the states, as well as promoting criminal justice reform, an issue with strong crossover appeal.

Less than a month into the campaign, the relaunch seems to be working. Perry’s announcement speech was widely praised, and he has piled up positive press reports in his trips to early primary states. Craig Robinson, whose blog The Iowa Republican is closely followed for his take on the presidential contests, boldly declared that “A Rick Perry Comeback is Inevitable” in a recent post.

Robinson calls Perry “the prime candidate who political pundits and observers should be keeping an eye on in Iowa,” and praises him for working the state “more aggressively since 2012” than any other candidate, and for his strong grassroots organization in Iowa that has been attracting key supporters including Dr. Sam Clovis, a popular conservative activist who will chair Perry’s Iowa team.

Having attended several Perry events and interviewed supporters like Clovis, Robinson also notes a positive change in tone for Perry’s campaign. “[I]t’s apparent that Perry is relaxed and confident about his 2016 run in a way that he never was in 2012,” wrote Robinson. Perry’s poll numbers in Iowa are on a positive trend as well.

The Fix blog at The Washington Post posted a tongue-in-cheek article praising Perry’s enthusiasm at a recent event in Iowa. “Say what you will about Rick Perry, but the man has hustle,” wrote Hunter Schwartz, sharing several photos of Perry running up to the stage to greet the voters. The photos of the “determined” and “full of vigor” Perry sprinting to the stage should put to rest any nagging questions about whether Perry is fully recovered from that 2011 back surgery.

The Post article might have been written for laughs, but it underscores an important point: Perry’s innate likability. It is hard to imagine such an article being written about the more reserved Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) or Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), for example. Perry proudly touted his record in Texas during both campaigns, but this time around he is embodying the “happy warrior” spirit on the campaign trail even more.

One of Perry’s greatest strengths is his natural ability as a retail politician. Simply put, the man is just plain likable, an especially important advantage in a country where “Would you like to have a beer with this candidate?” plays a role in determining voters’ choices.

When he arrived at a San Antonio Starbucks for an interview with Breitbart News earlier this month, Perry cheerfully greeted the Starbucks patrons, chatting easily with everyone. He was at ease and charming, drawing a little heart for a young girl who asked for his autograph and discussing health insurance policy with a man frustrated about his rising premium costs.

In conversations with Perry’s core campaign staff, they are focused and optimistic about his path to success, building on the refocused messages and Perry’s personal outreach skills. Perry Communications Director Lucy Nashed told Breitbart News, “Governor Perry is focused on sharing his proven record of results and optimistic vision for America, and we are confident he will be on the debate stage in August.”

Campaign manager Jeff Miller, a California native, recently accompanied Perry on a campaign trip to his hometown of Tehachapi, where the local paper covered Perry’s “message of giving back” he delivered to the high school football team. Throughout this campaign, Miller has been unwavering in his positive expectations for his candidate, describing Perry 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.”

In an interview with Breitbart News earlier this year, Senior Policy Advisor Avik Roy shared how he had personally been impressed with Perry’s track record of not just delivering conservative speeches but enacting conservative policies that produced successful results. “Look at what he’s actually done,” said Roy, calling Perry “arguably the most creative governor in the country,” accomplishing things that “actually make a difference in people’s lives.” Continued Roy, “What I love about Perry is he’s a conservative through and through,” but when it comes to applying that conservatism, “he’s much more inventive, much more entrepreneurial” than many other elected officials.

Perry himself is absolutely confident that his record and message will prove to be a winning combination in the minds of voters, telling Breitbart News, “I’ll be on the debate stage. I’m a lot more interested in what we’re going to say on the debate stage than whether I’m going to be there. I’ll be there.”

If you missed Breitbart News’ exclusive interview with Gov. Perry on the campaign trail this month, you can catch up here and here.

This article has been updated.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.