Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) just emailed political supporters pledging to announce his “exciting future plans” at a Monday San Antonio event. Normally, when a politician schedules an official speech that will either be a formal campaign kick-off or retirement statement, everyone knows what will be said. Not in this case. One only needs to look back to 2009, when the governor surprisingly announced for another term even though everyone “knew” that he would step down.
Gov. Perry has kept his own counsel about his “exciting future plans,” and there is diverse speculation surrounding what he will do. Many who are close to the governor, who is Texas’ longest-serving chief executive, believe that he has already decided to run for president again in 2016. Assuming this line of thought is true, what is his best move as it pertains to either keeping or relinquishing his current office?
If he is to run for president, he needs to re-establish political credibility. He does that by convincingly winning another re-election.
You’ll remember that he began the 2012 campaign in exalted fashion, entering the race with a first-place polling standing. His August 2011 presidential campaign announcement speech from South Carolina on the day of the Iowa Straw Poll was very well received and he appeared to lay legitimate claim to front-runner status. Few knew, however, that this day marked his campaign’s apex. We all remember his disastrous debate performance when the governor couldn’t recall one of the three federal agencies that he was planning to eliminate should he win the presidency. After this glaring error he tumbled down the polling charts with lightning speed and soon found himself languishing in also-ran and after-thought status.
Right now, polling suggests that Perry would be convincingly re-elected. Public Policy Polling’s (June 28-July 1; 500 registered Texas voters) new survey reveals the governor to be in strong general election position against the most prominent Texas Democrats. Against state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), who quickly came to fame last week by filibustering an abortion bill pushed by Perry and Republicans, the governor enjoys a healthy 53-39 percent advantage. Opposite San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Perry’s margin is 50-43 percent; he soars to 52-35 percent over Houston Mayor Annise Parker; and the long-time incumbent scores a 10-point, 50-40 percent spread against former opponent and ex-Houston Mayor Bill White. This, despite brandishing an upside-down job approval score of 45:50 percent, and with 60 percent of the respondents (as compared to 30 percent who favor) believing he should not run for another term.
But the strongest reason suggesting another gubernatorial run is his financial base. For a potential candidate needing to restore personal and political credibility, campaign funding becomes a restoration effort staple. Can Perry raise the untold millions of dollars he will need for a national campaign apparatus without sitting as the Texas governor? Simply, no.
One also should not forget that Perry is a strong campaigner, and that he is always under-estimated by the political media. Turn the clock back to 2010 when he was facing then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican gubernatorial primary. When the race began, she was the state’s most popular office holder and Perry was foundering. She was raising money at a furious clip and held a substantial polling lead. When primary day arrived, however, it was Gov. Perry winning without a run-off, and Hutchison scratching and clawing merely to reach the 30 percent plateau.
On the other hand, valid reasons exist for him not to run. First, he may face a primary challenge from Attorney General Greg Abbott who has been steadily raising money since the 2010 election and reportedly has close to $20 million in his campaign account.
Second, how will the premise of another presidential run affect his 2014 gubernatorial effort? Will people elect him to another term knowing that he will immediately turnaround and run for president? Certainly, he will be dogged with questions about how he can perform both functions throughout the race, and that won’t help him.
The governor’s Monday announcement is truly a mystery. With strong arguments suggesting each course of action, and him unwilling to provide any pre-announcement clues, there is little way of knowing Rick Perry’s true plans. For once, a political announcement may actually be a surprise.