Failed Presidential Bids
But he returns with plenty of in-state clout as the longest-serving governor, with influence in the Legislature and control over all state agencies.
The questions now swirling in Austin are how he responds and whether rivals — including fellow Republicans — will try to capitalize on his national fall.
Some analysts warn that it would be a mistake to try to cross him, whether in state affairs or a potential re-election run as governor in 2014. Still others wonder whether Perry, after the rough outing for a man who had never lost a campaign, will have the enthusiasm to stay.
“He is still the most powerful and influential politician in Texas, but he is also weaker and is no longer viewed as invincible,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political scientist.
Former legislative veteran Bill Ratliff, a Republican who served as lieutenant governor during Perry’s initial years in the top job, said he doesn’t believe that the failed presidential hunt “matters that much in Texas.”
“There is the possibility that he will make some kind of effort to exert himself and show that his power has not been diminished,” Ratliff said.
He noted that Perry has appointed every state board member and commissioner, more than 2,500 people. “I don’t see that they will have any less loyalty or regard for his opinions,” Ratliff said.
Former state GOP Rep. Kenn George of Dallas, a supporter of Perry’s presidential campaign, was more blunt:
“There will be some folks who try him, but it would be foolish to tickle the bear’s nose,” he said.
Perry’s Democratic critics say he’s on the ropes.
“He’s a punch-drunk politician at this point,” said Democratic strategist Matt Angle. “The question is whether his head is going to clear in time to do any good for the state of Texas.”
Much of what happens with Perry over the next few years depends on his ambitions — either in office or possibly in a high-profile role elsewhere — and how he tries to ease the pain of his ill-fated presidential bid.
“It’s hard to know what he really wants. He never seems to do what people think he’s going to do,” said Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Wade Emmert.
Busy times ahead
If Perry is diminished by his race for president, it won’t take long to see the symptoms.
He has a full plate waiting for him.
The 2012 election season continues, even without him atop the ticket. And he still has to prepare for the 2013 legislative session and its challenges.
Then there’s 2014, when he’ll have to decide whether to run for re-election or transition to something else, perhaps another run for president.
“The immediate condition of his return to Texas doesn’t hinge very much on public opinions. Massive popularity was not his primary tool as governor, and they’re [Perry and his allies] going to come back and try to exert authority,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
Longtime Austin political consultant Bill Miller said how Perry is regarded over the remaining three years of his term will depend largely on how he deals with the national shellacking.
“If his attitude is positive, people will say shake it off and welcome him back. On the other hand, if he has a negative attitude and wants to punish people for what happened, then he won’t be well-received,” Miller said.
For strategic reasons, Perry should not disclose whether he is eyeing another term as governor anytime soon, particularly not before the end of the next legislative session, Miller said.
Doing so would make him a lame-duck governor, with far less influence over legislators, he said.
While Texas Democrats are predicting a big drop in the governor’s clout in his home state, Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Kirk Watson of Austin called on Perry to quickly put his focus back on state problems.
Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said Thursday that Perry would be back to work soon.
“We’re confident he’s going to go back and hit the ground running and be stronger for this experience.”
Many Texans were surprised in 2010 when Perry opted to seek re-election, ultimately thrashing Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Democrat Bill White, the former Houston mayor.
He will face a similar decision in 2014, when foes will renew attacks that dog him in the presidential campaign. If Hutchison gunned for him last time, he’ll certainly draw opposition again.
Jones said Perry’s weak performance nationally would usher in thoughts that he’s hung around too long.
And it may feed perceptions that the Texas GOP establishment and major contributors will look for a stronger candidate for governor next time, such as Attorney General Greg Abbott.
“His time in office may be more of the determining factor, not his failed run for president,” former Dallas County Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman said.
Other paths for Perry?
Perry, 61, does have other options. He could remain a conservative voice for state rights, get another job somewhere, or maybe make another run for president.
Ratliff and Jones both said there’s little chance he’ll be seen as a national candidate in the foreseeable future.
Had he not run for president, he probably would have been in line for a cabinet post in a Republican administration, Jones said.
Now, he said, he shouldn’t count on getting a call if Mitt Romney wins, Jones said.
George, the former House member, said he’d like to see Perry skip running for re-election, and instead focus on trying again for the White House if Republicans don’t capture it this time.
“Spend some time building a network. Republicans have a way of wanting their candidates to run for president a second time,” he said. “If anything, this will give him a broader view of the issues and strengthen him for whatever comes his way.”
Perry on Thursday did not give specifics but said he would stay in the spotlight, “neither discouraged nor disenchanted, but instead rewarded for the experience and resolute to remain in the arena and in the service of a great nation.”
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