Why Rick Perry Is Sitting Pretty for 2016
Policy + Politics

Why Rick Perry Is Sitting Pretty for 2016

AP Photo/San Antonio Express-News, Lisa Krantz

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the man so eager to slash federal agencies he couldn't keep track of precisely which ones, has spent the last year trying to pound one simple message into Americans' heads: He wants your business.

To that end, the nation's longest-serving governor has been on a high-profile barnstorming tour through New York, Illinois and California, advising put-upon companies there to relocate to the more business-friendly environs of the Lone Star State. 

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"It is remarkable how the Texas jobs and the Texas conservative policy message really has seeped into the national psyche and the business psyche and the political groundwater," said Ray Sullivan, a longtime Perry advisor and spokesman. "Everybody knows, it seems like, whether it be business leaders or political activists, that Texas is on the move."

And increasingly, everybody knows that Perry is on the move. The governor's technocratic reconditioning (complete with new horn-rimmed eyewear) has already accomplished one major goal: He has gotten the political commentariat to ask a question few could have wondered some 18 months ago, will Rick Perry run for president in 2016?

One of Perry's biggest believers is Jeff Miller, a California GOP consultant who moved to Texas last year and now runs Americans for Economic Freedom, the group that has funded the governor's national offensive. If anybody thinks Perry can dance his way back into presidential contention, it's Miller—but even he acknowledges that the footwork must be precise.

"The governor was very humbled by the 2012 race, and because of his major back surgery, lack of preparatory work and late entry into the race, things obviously didn't go as planned," said Miller. "Because of that, at this early stage, the governor is probably held to a higher standard than any other political figure in the country. Which means going forward, there is very little room for error."

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In the final leg of his final term, with all his legislative sessions behind him, Perry is sitting comfortably: He can spend his last nine months in office newly cultivating a presidential image and resume.

Apart from garnering a fair share of earned media, the blue state jaunts have another key rationale. Although California, New York or Illinois all seem to have limited electoral relevance for a Republican primary candidate, they have their purposes.

"Let me be crass and say they are certainly important regardless of their electoral maps and electoral outcome," said Sullivan. "They are important for financial support and political support. If you look at the funds raised out of California and New York, there are big numbers."

While Perry raised about $1.57 million for his 2012 presidential campaign from California donors (amounting to roughly 9 percent of his total war chest), he barely tapped the deep GOP pockets in New York or Illinois.

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But it remains to be seen how far this blue state business poaching expedition can take Perry. After all, every Republican in good standing believes that reducing the tax and regulatory burdens on businesses will create jobs and improve the economy.

"He will have to be much more well-rounded," said Craig Schoenfeld, a key Iowa Republican operative who helped lead a Draft Perry campaign in 2012. "There is no reason (Wisconsin governor) Scott Walker, (Louisiana governor) Bobby Jindal and others can't say the same thing: 'We have a great business climate.'"

And Perry, unlike Walker or Ohio Gov. John Kasich or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, doesn't have a lionhearted story to tell about taking on the opposition to accomplish his fiscal objectives; he's had a friendly Republican legislature at his beckoning.

Moreover, if Perry wants to make Texas' economy front and center, he may be forced to explain why the state's debt burden has mounted during his administration.

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But that's all for the messaging strategists to worry about if (or when) he runs.

The imperative for Perry now is to transition some of his public displays of technocracy into other realms. Certainly, with its big and diverse economy, Texas seems to provide Perry a sufficient staging ground while still in office.

"Back in 2012, one of the dings on him was his foreign policy experience," said Schoenfeld, who will not commit to Perry this time around. "I will be curious to see what he does when he is out of office. I will be curious to see if he spends some time overseas building those relations and getting a better grasp on some of those issues." 

This article originally appeared in CNBC.  

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