Rick Perry, Shrugging Off 2012, Announces He Will Run Again for President

Manny Fernandez

ADDISON, Tex. — Rick Perry, the former Texas governor whose 2012 campaign for the White House turned into a political disaster that humbled and weakened the most powerful Republican in the state, announced Thursday that he will run for president again in 2016.

Mr. Perry is the latest candidate to officially enter a crowded field of Republican presidential contenders, declared and undeclared, several of whom have Texas ties and have overshadowed him in recent months, including Senator Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, the brother of former President George W. Bush, Mr. Perry's predecessor in the governor's mansion.

Mr. Perry made the announcement on his website and planned a speech later in the day at a small municipal airport here in Addison, a northern suburb of downtown Dallas.

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In promoting his political plans, Mr. Perry has cited his 14-year tenure as governor of the nation's second-most-populous state and a vibrant Texas economy he has called "the envy of the nation." As he has often pointed out, Texas added 1.8 million private-sector jobs on his watch, from January 2001 to October 2014, although his critics — and some economists — say he is taking too much credit for macro-economic forces, including an oil boom, beyond his control during that time.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry campaigning for Senate Republican candidate and North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, Oct. 24, 2014, in Smithfield, North Carolina
Getty Images

But whether Mr. Perry has done enough to repair the damage from his failed run in 2012 and to thrust himself out of the second tier of candidates he finds himself in remains unclear. Even in Texas, Mr. Perry has already lost crucial support to some of his rivals. Steve Munisteri, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, has been heading up Senator Rand Paul's presidential campaign in Texas. Many of the grass-roots Tea Party activists in Texas have flocked to Mr. Cruz, while some of those in the more mainstream Texas Republican establishment are supporting Mr. Bush, whose son, George P. Bush, is the state's new land commissioner.

"Activists will be attracted to him and give him a second chance if he can bring some buzz and show the energy to demonstrate he can build a viable effort," said David M. Carney, a former political consultant to Mr. Perry and a top strategist for his 2012 campaign. "With so many new shiny objects in the race this cycle, this will be the hardest hurdle he will need to climb. Perry provides a robust record of accomplishments that no one can rival," Mr. Carney said. "The question remains: Can he put the other pieces into play, and has his time passed?"

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The event on Thursday was expected to emphasize veterans' support of his campaign, highlighting at least one way that Mr. Perry planned to distinguish himself from the other candidates seeking the Republican nomination. Before his Texas political career, Mr. Perry served in the United States Air Force in the 1970s and was a pilot who flew C-130s in overseas missions, including earthquake relief in Guatemala.

In some ways, Mr. Perry's expected entry into the race signals a remarkable political comeback.

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His 2012 bid for president was filled with gaffes that became national punch lines. He famously uttered "oops" during a debate after he failed to recall the name of one of three federal agencies he would eliminate if elected president. Shortly before he dropped out of the race, he ended up in fifth place in the Iowa caucuses.

In the years since, Mr. Perry has worked at retooling and sharpening both his image and his political chops, making frequent trips to early voting states, meeting with influential policy experts, attending the World Economic Forum in 2014 in Switzerland and even making two cosmetic changes — donning hipster-style black-rimmed eyeglasses and trading his cowboy boots for black loafers.

"He has focused like a laser beam on the task of running for president in 2016 almost since he dropped out of the race," said Deirdre Delisi, a former chief of staff to Mr. Perry and the policy director for his 2012 campaign. "He has really benefited from using the time in between the last cycle and this cycle, and getting himself more comfortable to be on the national stage."

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Mr. Perry was widely regarded as one of the most influential politicians in the history of Texas, a state with no shortage of larger-than-life governors and senators. He tapped his formal and informal powers — using his bully pulpit, veto pen and thousands of appointees at every level of the state bureaucracy — to extend the reach of the governor's office. Yet after leaving office in January, Mr. Perry has been outshined by some of his more high-profile rivals in fund-raising, building a national operation and political buzz.

And Mr. Perry has another problem, one that political consultants say has the potential to ruin or at least hurt his campaign: a criminal indictment.

A grand jury in Austin indicted Mr. Perry in August on two felony charges of abusing his official capacity and coercing a public servant, the result of a long-running case involving Mr. Perry's use of his veto power as governor. Mr. Perry pressured the Democratic district attorney in Austin's Travis County to step down by threatening to cut off state financing to the anticorruption unit in her office, a move that Mr. Perry's critics and the special prosecutor in the case, Michael McCrum, have said crossed the line from hardball politics to the criminal act of threatening an elected official. The district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, had been arrested on a charge of drunken driving, but she resisted Mr. Perry's efforts to get her to resign and remained in office. Mr. Perry followed through on his threat by vetoing $7.5 million in state money for the public-corruption unit in her office.

Mr. Perry and his lawyers have denied any wrongdoing, saying that the veto was lawful and casting his indictment by a grand jury in a Democratic-dominated city as politically motivated. As the case continues to drag on in court, both Democrats and Republicans believe it could prevent deep-pocketed donors from contributing to Mr. Perry's campaign and dampen his attempts to become a front-runner.

"This indictment is not going away soon," said Craig McDonald, the director and founder of Texans for Public Justice, the government watchdog group that filed the original complaint against Mr. Perry. "I'd be surprised if the electorate regards a felony indictment for abuse of power as a qualification for the presidency."