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The Texas Border has Relaunched Rick Perry's Presidential Plans

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune
Gov. Rick Perry, seen here announcing he's sending 1,000 troops to the Texas border. Gov. Perry's political capital has risen as Texas's border and immigration issues have increased.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a beating during his 2012 presidential campaign for what many Tea Party activists considered a soft stance on immigration.

But as Gov. Perry has battled President Obama over the increase of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, his poll numbers for a possible 2016 run are on the rise.

Back in 2011, immigration policy was behind Perry's first major misstep on the campaign trail. In a debate, he was asked about a Texas law allowing some undocumented children to pay in-state tuition at state universities.

Perry delivered an answer that didn't sit well with Tea Party conservatives.

"If you say we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there, by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," Perry said at a debate in Orlando.

His campaign's downward slide from there is well documented. As 2014 began, Perry was a presidential also-ran – a footnote from 2012, not someone considered a serious candidate for 2016.

When he was mentioned in the media, it was usually to be mocked for his decision to start wearing glasses – like in this clip from Steven Colbert:

But fast-forward to this summer – and all that started to change. The influx of immigrants and unaccompanied minors crossing into Texas from Central America has allowed Perry to claim the mantle of border security governor.

Border security is squarely in Perry's political comfort zone, according to Rice University political science chair Mark Jones. He says Perry has long been a hawk on border security, but friendlier to immigrants already in the country. "And in doing so it allows him to make a strong appeal to conservative voters based on the issue of border security, without alienating Hispanic voters with what's often seen as anti-Hispanic rhetoric," Jones says.

And with Hispanic recruitment a priority among Republicans, Perry's tough-but-caring stance may be a perfect fit.

"This is causing people to at least take a second look at Rick Perry," Jones says,  "somebody who most of the national pundits had completely discarded from the range of viable candidates for 2016."

In the weeks after Perry's border press conference in late June, he's gone from the bottom of most polls to somewhere near the top. He was tied for first with Jeb Bush in a FOX News pollreleased last week , and over the last four polls, he averages higher than Sen. Ted Cruz.

It will take more than border security to win the GOP Presidential nomination, but the subject has given Perry some credibility to weigh in on other national issues, without getting the eye rolls that often follow the rants of 3rd tier candidates.

Like yesterday, when Perry was on CNN’s “State of the Union”  with Candy Crowley. Yes he talked about border security, but that’s not the main reason CNN wanted to hear from him.

“Deep in the heart of Texas, the governor who wants to be President, takes on the current one. Rick Perry with us exclusively on the conflict in the Middle East and the immigration crisis at home," Crowley said teasing Perry's appearance at the beginning of the show.

But Perry hasn’t stopped at Israel. 

He recently wrote a letter asking Congress to re-authorize the federal Export-Import Bank, which helps American companies sell their products overseas. It’s a stance that puts him at odds with Sen. Cruz – and gives Perry a chance to use his newfound political footing to set himself apart from an expected presidential rival.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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