Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Polk County Republican Party fall fundraiser dinner at the Embassy Suites in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. Perry returned to Iowa for the first time since his presidential run last year. (AP Photo/Justin Hayworth)
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — This time, there were no satellite TV trucks, media throngs or fawning Republicans awaiting his arrival.
But Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s return to Iowa, where he left last year a defeated Republican presidential candidate, sounded very much like a potential candidate reintroducing himself and appealing for a second chance.
“Those of you with this new renewed sense of purpose in this country can lead America back to greatness again,” Perry told a banquet of 400 Des Moines area GOP faithful. “I stand ready to work with you to create that.”
As he weighs whether to run for president again, Perry returned Thursday to this leadoff presidential caucus state for the first time since his flameout during his first White House bid last year. His arrival was much more muted than before.
“I would do a number of things differently,” Perry told a group of mostly local reporters at the start of a two-day trip. He planned to meet privately with political leaders and business groups, the quiet work typical of more successful presidential campaigns.
Reminded he was in Iowa far earlier than he was the first time he ran, Perry quipped: “That would certainly be one of the things I would do differently.”
Perry met Thursday with Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and GOP Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and was scheduled to headline in Des Moines the annual Republican fall fundraising dinner in Iowa’s most populous county. He plans to return in December.
The stakes are high, given how far and fast Perry fell before.
“Making a first impression a second time is hard, very hard,” said David Carney, Perry’s chief strategist as governor and in his 2012 presidential campaign.
Perry’s speech wasn’t new, but its closing was lofty and serious. He also seized on America’s contempt for Washington, especially in light of the partial federal shutdown last month. “We’ve got to turn away from Washington to find the answers.”
A full year before those caucuses, rumors spread about a possible Perry campaign as Republicans looked for an alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney.
With folksy charm and an outsider’s pitch, the conservative Perry didn’t get into the race until the summer of 2011. During his first Iowa visit that August just after announcing his candidacy, he was smothered by media and photo-grabbing GOP activists as he moved from table to table at a Republican banquet in northern Iowa.
It was a relatively late arrival into the campaign that hindered his ability to simultaneously raise money, build an organization and prepare for looming national debates.
He ended up introducing himself nationally with shaky debate performances and infamous “Oops” moment when he couldn’t recall one of the three federal agencies he had promised to eliminate as president.
On Thursday, after accusing federal officials of forgetting how to lead, he laughed at the now-famous gaffe.
“And believe me, I know something about forgetting,” he said.
Perry finished fifth in the leadoff Iowa caucuses last year and quit the race two weeks later.
“He didn’t do as much homework as he should have for that race,” said state Rep. Chip Baltimore, who supported Perry for a time in 2011. “I don’t expect him to make that mistake twice.”
Perry will have more time to campaign beginning in 2015, when he leaves the governorship. Elected in 2000, he is not seeking re-election next year.
Iowa GOP strategist John Stineman, said Perry will face an uphill path and enter in the back of the pack, not the front. “The operative question is, Has he gained the humility and accompanying candidate work ethic that he did not display last time around?” Stineman said.