A number of high-profile Republicans have made their way to Iowa in the last couple of weeks. Texas Governor Rick Perry, Utah Senator Mike Lee, 2012 caucus winner Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, and Sarah Palin have all visited the state in the last week. Mike Huckabee, the 2008 caucus winner, is due in later today, and Congressman Paul Ryan will be in this weekend.
Iowans are used to seeing big-name politicians early and often, but if you didn’t know better, one would think the next presidential caucus is just around the corner instead of more than two years away. The recent political activity once again puts Iowa in the national spotlight, but not all of these visits are same.
The visits by Palin, Ryan, Brown, Santorum, Huckabee, and Lee can be counted in hours, but Rick Perry’s visit spanned a couple of days. Perry’s trip to Iowa centered on the Polk County GOP’s annual fundraiser, but the Texas governor did a lot more than that while in Iowa. Perry made time to meet with Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds. He sat for in-depth interviews with the Des Moines Register and WHO TV.
Perry was also appeared at two luncheons, one for the Iowa affiliate of Americans for Prosperity that featured local business leaders, and another for the National Rifle Association. He even traveled an hour east of Des Moines to tour a new facility being built by Brownells, a large supplier of firearms accessories and gunsmithing tools in Grinnell.
When you look at Perry’s Iowa itinerary, one could easily say that this may very well have the first campaign trip in advance of the 2016 caucuses. It’s also worth nothing that Perry used his media interviews and speaking engagements recast himself as a presidential candidate.
Gone is the bitter politician who called the Iowa caucuses “quirky” and “loosey-goosey” after finishing fifth in the 2012 caucuses. Perry still thinks the caucuses are quirky, which they are, but he now seems more accepting of the process. Perry told WHO TV’s Dave Price, “If I didn’t think it wasn’t a manageable process, I would probably have never come back to Iowa again.”
In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Perry admitted that he had learned a few lessons from his 2012 presidential campaign. “One is, if you’re going to run you need to get in a couple years early. And the other one is, don’t have major back surgery six weeks before you announce your candidacy.”
Perry’s extensive Iowa visit is a clear indication that he’s already addressing one of those issues. His back surgery has been an excuse for his poor 2012 performance for quite some time now, but the Rick Perry that we saw on his recent trip to Iowa wasn’t all that different from the Rick Perry we saw in 2012. The most notable difference was the trendy eyeglasses he sported during the trip. Perry was well received in Iowa, but his speech at the Polk County GOP event was incredibly brief, and he still has a tendency to read his speeches, even to the most friendly of audiences. I was surprised to see him deliver prepared remarks at the NRA luncheon. If there is one issue for which Perry shouldn’t need notes or prepared remarks, I would think it would be on gun issues and the 2nd Amendment.
The national media has written a number of articles about Perry’s attempt to either remake or redeem himself in 2016. It’s easy to understand his motivation, but besides the enormous amount of fluff interviews he did with the Register that let us know he’s afraid of snakes, took in a rescue dog from Tijuana, and that his favorite band is The Who, Rick Perry is still the same guy we met in 2012.
Perry has always been likeable, in fact, he was probably the best retail politician in the 2012 race. The problem with Perry is that he’s amazing in one-on-one situations or with small groups, but he fails to connect with larger audiences or on television. If the Perry team wants to approach Iowa differently in 2016, they would be better off losing the entourage and prepared speeches and just talking to Iowans.
Even if Perry adopts such a strategy, he’s still going to have overcome the perception that he’s not a good debater. The good news is that there is likely to be a debate every other week or so in the next presidential election, so he will get plenty of practice. Yet, to be a top-tier candidate, Perry will have to deliver quality performances in the debate.
Another obstacle he will have to overcome is that he’s going to enter the race as a second or third tier candidate. That’s going to be difficult for a former Texas governor, especially considering that he entered the 2012 race as a frontrunner. Perry’s going to have to slug it out much like Mike Huckabee did in 2008 and Rick Santorum did in 2012.
There is nothing glamorous about running for president when you’re not a frontrunner. It’s a long, hard slog, and he’s going to have to earn everything he gets. Whether or not Perry can be successful in 2016 is yet to be seen, but if anyone will give him a second look, it will be Iowa caucus goers. In fact, I don’t think Perry’s biggest impediment in 2016 is Iowa at all. I think it’s the national media who’s going to have a difficult time forgetting about the candidate they saw in 2012.
What I saw out of Rick Perry while in Iowa last week is that he has made an attitude adjustment towards how he feels about the First-in-the-Nation caucus state. That’s a good sign, but what he really needs is a different approach to campaigning here. If he follows the examples of Terry Branstad, Chuck Grassley, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum and really opens himself to Iowans all across the state, I can see him doing well here. If he doesn’t, I don’t think he stands a chance.
blog comments powered by Disqus