ADDISON, Texas — Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched his presidential campaign four years ago as an instant front-runner — a proven job-creator with solid conservative credentials, formidable fundraising prowess and perhaps enough cowboy swagger to take Republicans by storm.
Then came his embarrassing “oops” moment during a debate and Perry’s tumble from powerhouse to punchline.
Now he’s running again, hitting Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina hard and early, and studying up on policy to become better prepared.
The former governor is making the widely expected announcement that he’s in the 2016 race on Thursday at an airport outside Dallas, a senior adviser to Perry told The Associated Press. The adviser requested anonymity to speak before the announcement.
In a website video released Thursday, labeled “Paid for by Perry for President,” Perry says the country needs a proven leader who can bridge partisanship. “A lot of candidates will say the right things,” he says in the video on rickperry.org. “We need a president who has done the right things.”
One of the few military veterans in the Republican field, Perry planned to make his announcement in an airport hangar, a sweaty setting in the humid Texas air.
Parked next to the small stage was a hulking C-130 the cargo plane, like one he flew for the Air Force. Its front flank featured a new coat of whitewash paint and a red, white and blue “Perry for President” banner with a red ‘P’ and white star in the logo.
He walked around the front of the plane a few hours before his announcement, thumping its exterior and smiling.
As Perry returns to presidential politics, the question remains: Will he get another solid chance?
“It’s going to be hard to make a first impression a second time,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist in Washington.
Despite his brain freeze on a Michigan debate stage in November 2011 — he forgot the third federal agency he promised to close if elected, then muttered, “Oops” — Perry still has the policy record that made him an early force last time.
Perry left office in January after a record 14 years as governor. Under him, the state generated more than a third of America’s new private-sector jobs since 2001.
While an oil and gas boom fueled much of that economic growth, Perry credits lower taxes, restrained regulation and limits on civil litigation damages. He also pushed offering economic incentives to lure top employers to Texas and repeatedly visited states with Democratic governors to poach jobs.
Another Texas Republican who has announced a presidential campaign, Sen. Ted Cruz, praised Perry as “a friend and a patriot.”
“Texas is a better state because of his principled leadership, and the GOP primary field will be better because of his candidacy,” Cruz said in a statement.
Perry was thought to be a cinch for four more years as governor in 2014, but instead turned back to White House ambitions.
His effort may be complicated this time by a felony indictment on abuse of power and coercion charges, from when he threatened — then carried out — a veto of state funding for public corruption prosecutors. That came when the unit’s Democratic head rebuffed Perry’s demands that she resign following a drunken driving conviction.
Perry calls the case against him a political “witch hunt,” but his repeated efforts to get it tossed on constitutional grounds have so far proved unsuccessful. That raises the prospect he’ll have to leave the campaign trail to head to court in Texas.
Perry blamed lingering pain from back surgery in the summer of 2011 for part of the reason he performed poorly in the 2012 campaign. He has ditched his trademark cowboy boots for more comfortable footwear and wears glasses that give him a serious look.
Perry also traveled extensively overseas and studied policy with experts and economists at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He met such business moguls as Warren Buffett and Rupert Murdoch.
Lately, Perry has traveled to Iowa, which kicks off presidential nomination voting, more than any GOP White House candidate.
“People realize that what the governor did in the high-profile debate, stumble, everyone has done at some point in their lives,” said Ray Sullivan, Perry’s chief of staff as governor and communications director for his 2012 presidential bid. “I think he’s already earned a second look, particular in Iowa.”
Perry’s camp notes that many past Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney in 2012, rebounded to win the party’s presidential nomination after failing in a previous bid. But O’Connell, the GOP strategist, said the 2016 field is “extremely talented and deep” compared with four years ago.
“For him to win the nomination,” O’Connell said, “he’s going to have to be great, but a lot of people are going to have to trip and fall along the way.”
Peoples reported from Washington.