Texas Governor Rick Perry, weighing a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, spent 20 minutes last month talking with Iowa retiree Joanie Scotter about jobs, border security and President Barack Obama.
“I agreed with everything he said,” Scotter, a regional director of the National Federation of Republican Women who has worked in Iowa politics since 1998, said by telephone.
The chat with Scotter is one of many calls made by Perry, 61, to voters, politicians and media figures in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, states where the first votes of the 2012 presidential campaign will be cast. His effort signals he intends to run, according to Jim Henson, head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas in Austin.
“He’s already a candidate, but making a formal announcement raises expectations and creates all kinds of limitations,” Henson said in an interview.
The longest-serving U.S. governor, who plans to host a Christian prayer rally Aug. 6 in Houston, has been building political alliances while avoiding direct attacks from potential rivals and raising money unfettered by federal limits since May 27, when he said publicly that he would “think about” a presidential bid. Mark Miner, a Perry spokesman, said no decision has been made.
“The overarching strategic question for Perry is how do you do well enough in Iowa and New Hampshire to get to South Carolina in good enough shape” to win that state’s early primary, said Bill Lacy, who managed former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson’s 2008 presidential campaign. That bid foundered after the “Law and Order” actor from Tennessee waited until September 2007 to become a declared candidate.
“History says you can’t grossly underperform in New Hampshire and Iowa” and expect to do well in South Carolina, said Lacy, now director of the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Less than two weeks after Perry opened the door to a run, key political aides including Rob Johnson, who managed his 2010 re-election bid, and New Hampshire-based David Carney quit Republican Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. Both now work for Perry.
While gathering his forces, Perry has courted potential financial backers, traveling to New York and California in June, and hosting dinners in Austin. A July 28 event in the Texas capital brought in about 50 business executives from at least a half-dozen states, said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member who has encouraged Perry to run. Barbour is a nephew of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who in April decided against seeking the White House.
Texas doesn’t limit political contributions, leaving Perry to plan such events as an Aug. 9 Austin fundraiser that Robert Miller, a lawyer and lobbyist at Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP in Houston, said seeks as much as $100,000 from top donors. While federal law forbids Perry from using any of that money for a presidential exploratory committee or an actual run, he can use it to begin hiring staff and consultants who later could move to a presidential campaign team.
Texans for Rick Perry, his state campaign committee, had a balance of $2.1 million at the end of June, according to the most recent report to the Texas Ethics Commission. If Perry becomes a declared candidate, federal rules that limit individuals to giving $2,500 for primary races and $2,500 for general elections would kick in.
“It’s restocking the coffers before he goes national,” said Bill Miller, a lobbyist and founder of HillCo Partners LLC in Austin, which works for Republicans and Democrats. “It’s like topping off the tank before a big trip.”
Perry will need a minimum of $40 million to compete in the presidential primaries, Robert Miller said. His state campaigns have raised more than $100 million since 2001.
“Texas is the wild west of campaign money,” said Craig McDonald, president of Texans for Public Justice, an Austin group that tracks political donations. “He hasn’t even created an exploratory committee because he doesn’t need one. He’s using money from his Texas campaign to support his politicking.”
Along with fundraising freedom, Perry’s delay in deciding whether to run allows him to stand back from the campaign fray and nurture alliances that may help him later. His June 14 New York trip, speaking at a $1,000-a-plate dinner in Manhattan, helped raise money for the local Republican Party.
Getting ‘the Buzz’
“He’s getting all of the buzz anyway without announcing,” said Henson at the University of Texas, citing polls that show Perry would be a prime contender in the Republican race.
Most of the surveys have been led by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who formally entered the race on June 2.
For Perry, declaring a bid for the nomination late this month would let him “burst on the scene just when a new school year is beginning for most families and many Republicans will be tiring of the other candidates,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics in Charlottesville, said by e-mail.
Perry’s potential strength upon entering the race would be his base of support in the South, analysts say. “I’d be astonished if Rick Perry didn’t roll through the Southern primaries,” said David Woodard, a former consultant to Jim DeMint, South Carolina’s junior senator. “He has the swagger, he has the ties to the region and he’s got a million conservative Christians who are all upset about gay marriage.”
Thompson’s Fatal Delay
Getting into the campaign months after other candidates bombed in 2008 for Tennessee’s Thompson, who hoped a solid showing in the Iowa caucus would establish him as the favored Southern candidate, said Lacy, the former campaign manager. Instead, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee won the January caucus with 34 percent and Thompson was third at 13 percent.
Perry hasn’t been hurt by not announcing or participating in an Aug. 13 straw poll in Ames, Iowa, that is a traditional gauge of campaign strength, said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines. “He will be untested after the straw poll and sometimes it’s better to be untested than being tested and found wanting,” he said.
Craig Schoenfeld, Iowa executive director of Americans for Perry, said he collected e-mail addresses from 30 of 80 people who attended a gathering July 27 in Low Moor. They want to learn more about Perry, said Schoenfeld, whose group formed to encourage his entry into the contest.
“When I can walk out of there with a third of the room interested in Rick Perry, who hasn’t even announced, when some of the other candidates have literally been living in Iowa for months, that’s very encouraging,” Schoenfeld said.
To contact the reporter on this story: David Mildenberg in Austin, Texas, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at email@example.com.