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Perry Faces Fight to Restore ‘Mystique’ Dimmed by Campaign Bust

Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Rick Perry will come home to Texas to reclaim power as the nation’s longest-serving governor, yet now unable to say he never lost an election after halting his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Perry, 61, lost momentum by stumbling in debates, including his failure in November to name all three federal departments he would eliminate. He fell from leading in voter surveys in September to trailing rivals this month in Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation vote. He ended his campaign yesterday in South Carolina.

The governor remains powerful by virtue of 20 years in statewide office and because he has appointed virtually everyone who holds sway on Texas boards and commissions, said Calvin Jillson, who teaches politics at Southern Methodist University in University Park, abutting Dallas.

Yet Perry will have to work to regain his stature, Jillson said yesterday by telephone. “The mystique of having never lost an election is diminished.”

Perry, in his third full term as governor of the second most-populous state, had never lost a race for political office before jumping into the presidential campaign in August. A former Democrat who once worked for Al Gore, Perry has held statewide office since his election as Agriculture Commissioner in 1990. Rising to lieutenant governor, he took over the top job when George W. Bush resigned in 2000 to become president.

Endorsed Gingrich

Perry endorsed Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a fellow Southerner, yesterday, ahead of the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21.

The governor traveled to the state in August to kick off his campaign, ending months of speculation that he would run. He based much of his appeal to voters on job growth in Texas since he took office, buttressed with attacks on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Yet his comments on other matters sometimes eclipsed his record and campaign themes.

Critics pounced when Perry, in his first day on the presidential trail, said it would be “almost treacherous, or treasonous” for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to increase the Fed’s economic-stimulus moves before this year’s election.

In his first debate, Perry called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme,” drawing further criticism. In a November forum, he couldn’t come up with the name of the third federal agency -- the Energy Department -- that he had pledged to erase if elected, carving a place for himself in American political lore.

‘Oops’ Moment

“The third one I can’t. Sorry. Oops,” Perry said in the Nov. 9 debate, after naming the Education and Commerce Departments as targets for elimination.

Perry probably won’t lose much of his influence in Austin, the state capital, if he reclaims his job without showing any bitterness over his campaign failings, said Bill Miller, co-founder of HillCo Partners LLC, a lobbying firm in the city.

“The candidate who left Texas was hot, on top of his game and unbeatable,” Miller said yesterday in a telephone interview. “The guy on the campaign trail turned out to be an imposter, someone we’d never seen before. If he comes back as the guy who left, things will be the same.”

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Perry in Austin, said the governor’s situation isn’t expected to be any different than when he began seeking the nomination last year.

“Perry has a strong, conservative record, and he will continue working to make Texas this nation’s strongest economy, and share the successes of the Lone Star State with employers and families who are looking for a place to thrive,” Havens said by e-mail.

Republicans Dominate

Perry’s national performance may have cost him some clout among fellow Republicans, who dominate both the houses of the state Legislature, said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

“Perry is particularly vulnerable because he lost credibility,” Murray said yesterday by telephone.

The 2011 legislative session left schools underfunded for the next two years by more than $4 billion and when lawmakers take their seats in 2013, they likely will still face a deficit and demands for increased spending on education, Murray said. Perry had refused to accept tax increases or the use of reserve funds for the biennial budget in the 2011 lawmaking session. Texas’s Legislature normally meets every two years.

“You’ve got a lot of Republican legislators now saying the state has to find more money for public schools,” Murray said. “It’s going to be a challenge over the next 18 months for Perry to regain that credibility.”

Democrats Lash Out

Democrats unleashed critiques of Perry following his withdrawal from the presidential sweepstakes yesterday, saying his handling of the budget last year hurt the state.

“Rick Perry’s presidential run didn’t only damage his ego,” Anthony Gutierrez, a Texas Democratic Party spokesman, said by e-mail. “Perry used our last legislative session and state budget as a prop to launch this run. He put his political aspirations ahead of the needs of Texas children.”

The governor, who doesn’t face voters again until 2014, can regain his footing as long as he doesn’t blame his aborted presidential bid on “being too conservative,” said Jillson of Southern Methodist.

“If he says, ‘Aw shucks,’ and kicks up some dust, he will regain his credibility,” Jillson said. “If he tries to blame his poor performance on being ‘too conservative’ for the Republican party, people will see through that immediately.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Darrell Preston in Dallas at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at

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