Rick Perry's N.H. Trip to Kick Off '16 Campaign Season

Rick Perry's N.H. Trip to Kick Off '16 Campaign Season

By Scott Conroy - November 8, 2014

Just when you thought we were finally out of campaign mode, Rick Perry is coming to New Hampshire.  

The outgoing Texas governor and likely 2016 Republican presidential contender will travel across the state on Sunday and Monday with a jam-packed schedule that includes a half-dozen public events.  

After his political action committee contributed $61,500 to the New Hampshire Republican Party and various GOP groups and candidates there this fall, Perry is eager to emphasize his commitment to competing vigorously in the first-in-the-nation primary state, should he launch a second White House bid.  

Perry managed to wrangle just 1,764 votes (0.7 percent, good for sixth place) in New Hampshire during his disastrous 2012 White House run.

That result led many observers to wonder whether the back-slapping, cowboy boots-clad Texan was too culturally removed from the more staid New England electorate to succeed there.  

But asked whether Perry might skip the Granite State if he runs again, Mike Dennehy -- a longtime GOP strategist in the state, who is leading Perry’s rehabilitation effort there -- sounded flabbergasted that anyone would even consider such a notion.  

“Skip New Hampshire?” Dennehy asked incredulously. “Who would ever do such a thing? That’s like blasphemy!”

Dennehy, who spearheaded John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 New Hampshire primary victories, noted that Perry is making a concerted effort to introduce himself and get to know key GOP activists in the state, something he didn’t adequately do the last time.   

He also suggested that Perry is ideally suited to campaign in a state where frequent face-to-face interaction with voters remains indispensable for any successful candidate.  

“There’s no better retail politician than Rick Perry,” Dennehy said.  

Less than a week after the midterms, just about the last thing voters in most parts of the country want to see is an out-of-state politician trying to win them over.  In New Hampshire, however, campaign season never ends, and Republicans there are particularly eager to turn the page to the presidential race, given that the national Republican wave largely skipped over the state this year.  

Republican Frank Guinta did knock off Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in the 1st Congressional District, but Democrats swept New Hampshire’s closely contested U.S. Senate, gubernatorial, and 2nd District races. 

“There’s a lot of excitement on the ground for our first visit from a presidential possibility since the election,” said New Hampshire Republican Party Chair Jennifer Horn. “Everyone is aware of the great economic growth that they’re seeing in Texas, and people are eager to get to the next two years and have the opportunity to replace the president.” 

Perry’s last visit was in August, just after a grand jury in Texas indicted him on felony abuse-of-power charges for trying to pressure a district attorney into resigning her position after she was arrested on a drunk driving charge. 

On Thursday, Perry made his first court appearance in the case, which he has characterized as a “political witch hunt.” 

His trip to New Hampshire offers him an opportunity to shift gears and begin carrying out a new strategy for 2016.  In 2012, he hired a big staff in the state and made several campaign appearances there, even when the polls suggested that a strong showing was out of reach. 

It did not go well. His hapless campaign was perhaps best encapsulated by a town hall event at Saint Anselm College in November 2011, when the candidate urged voters in the crowd “who are going to be over 21 on November 12th” to support him. 

The 18-to-20-year-olds who were planning to participate in the Jan. 10 primary weren’t the only ones dumbfounded by that comment.  

It was later reported that Perry was taking medications for severe back pain at the time -- a factor that his advisers say accounted for his sub-par performance. 

He has been working hard to brush up on national policy issues and revitalize his public image, as Texas’ economy has continued to soar under his leadership. 

Dennehy suggested that a Perry campaign infrastructure would look much different this time around. 

“If he decides to run, there’s going to be an entirely new campaign and an entirely different election,” he said. “So he had some wonderful supporters in 2012, and hopefully they’ll support him again, if he runs, but I fully expect the team is going to look different.” 

There is no doubt that Perry has a lot of work ahead of him if he intends to compete seriously in the state. In a hypothetical field of GOP candidates, the Texas governor currently polls at just 4.0 percent there, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average of surveys.    

But New Hampshirites, by and large, may be inclined to give Perry another look, particularly if they see him doing the hard work of building local relationships.  

The curiosity factor, at the very least, appears to be real.  

Dartmouth College Republicans President Michelle Knesbach said she expects about 150 people to turn out for Perry’s Sunday night event in Hanover.  

“Originally we had a room of 70 people, and RSVPs from Dartmouth students alone filled that up in two days,” she said. “The enthusiasm is really intense here.”

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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