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Politics

In Anticipation of Likely Presidential Run, Perry's Image Gets an Upgrade

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Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune; Screenshot from Fox News
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Rick Perry is expected to run again for President. Since his last try, he's undergone a few changes.

First there was Ted Cruz. Then yesterday, Rand Paul joined the mix. Eventually, former Texas Governor Rick Perry is expected to announce his run — his second — for the Republican Presidential nomination. His first run, in 2011-12, didn’t end well.

But the former Texas Governor and his team have been working to undo past damage and build a better Perry: Perry 2.0.

What does it take to rebuild a man?

The damage Perry’s image suffered during his first presidential run was significant, to say the least. Before a second run, he needed a lot of upgrades. But instead of bionic arms and legs, like the Six Million Dollar Man, Perry 2.0 needed a campaign upgrade.

Simply put, Perry needed to put in the work before making the run. He acknowledged as much in a speech at the Reagan Presidential Library in California earlier this year:

"The most important thing I learned was the preparation that is required to be considered for the most powerful position in the world is a very long and arduous task,” Perry said.

He's been studying policy

So you could say upgrade number one is a new brain — so to speak.

Perry's spent more than two years traveling across the country, from think tank to institute to policy expert, trying to soak up as much knowledge as he can on domestic and foreign policy.

"The process of preparation to be considered for the nomination is a long and substantive path. I did not do that in 2011 and 2012. And I will suggest I paid a pretty substantive price for that,” he said in the Reagan Library speech.

He needs voters to give him a second chance

The second upgrade will be improving the public’s impression of Perry. To be successful this time around, Perry has to do more than just not make mistakes. He needs voters to give him a second chance, especially voters in early primary states. 

"New Hampshire Republicans are happy to vote a second time for candidates who have built a strong relationship with them,” says Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

But he says Perry's just not a great fit for New Hampshire. The state's GOP tends to vote for more moderate, establishment Republicans at primary time.

And even if he put in the time to make that second impression, Scala says the crowded GOP field may hurt Perry, as voters look for new options.

"We don't want a candidate who's banged up, scuffed up, bent around the edges. We'd like a freshly minted candidate this time around,” he says.

He needs a reboot

Perry 2.0 might do better in Iowa. That state's Republican caucus-goers are generally more conservative than New Hampshire’s. So, upgrade number three is more like a reboot: He'll need to appeal to conservatives like those in Iowa. You can already hear rebooted Perry when he talks about border security.

"If Washington's not going to do its duty to secure the Texas and Mexico border, Texas will,” he said.

Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford has seen Perry use that line in Iowa.

"Both times I've seen him do that here in Iowa, among Iowa Republicans, that's met with rapturous enthusiasm, strong applause, hoots and hollers,” Goldford says.

Perry also needs to clean up his rhetoric on immigration. He had some trouble with immigration hard-liners for not backing off a bill he signed into law that lets some students who came to the U.S. illegally when they were young children pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. He hasn't changed his mind on the law but has said that's a decision that should be left up to each individual state. Other than that, Goldford says Perry has an immigration policy that Iowa conservatives can get behind. 

"Somebody like Perry, who will make the argument about border security, attracts a lot of attention, if not support yet, for a strong stand in that regard,” he says.

The 'oops' moment as an advantage

Perry has one more thing going for him as he makes a second attempt at the nomination: Goldford says Perry's "oops" moment at that debate in 2011, as bad as it was, is something he can recover from.

"Well, the oops moment was not being wrong on a particular issue. It was a matter of general competence,” Goldford says.

In other words, that "oops" heard round the world was embarrassing, and it showed Perry wasn't ready for prime time. But it didn't make voters write him off as a candidate they didn't agree with. And that means the door is still open, even if just slightly, for Perry to slip back in.

Then there's the obvious

While the previous upgrades have been on campaign substance and style, this one is easy to spot before Perry even starts his campaign speech. Stephen Colbert certainly noticed.

"After two years of agonizing reappraisal, the governor has completely reinvented himself with a pair of glasses. He can't lose now. I mean those make him look smarter, more serious, and...” Colbert said.

That brings us back to "oops" – which highlights the key obstacle to this reconstruction project. The Six Million Dollar Man needed new legs because of a horrific crash. But Perry’s trauma was self-inflicted — which could make it harder to overcome, no matter how many upgrades he makes.

Perry's legal troubles

And even if he gets past "oops" there's that little matter of Perry's indictments. Last August a Travis County grand jury charged him with abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant, for his threat to veto funds from the Public Integrity Unit. Perry's eventually did veto the funds after the Unit's leader, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to resign her position after a DWI arrest, conviction and month in jail.

Perry's lawyers have filed multiple attempts to get the charges tossed out.

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