Vol 29, Issue 3 Print Issue

Perry Gives Up, Packs for Texas

Gov. Rick Perry praying at The Response, a two-hour evangelical gathering in Greenville, S.C., on Jan. 17, 2012, resembling the massive prayer event of the same name Perry hosted in August 2011.
Gov. Rick Perry praying at The Response, a two-hour evangelical gathering in Greenville, S.C., on Jan. 17, 2012, resembling the massive prayer event of the same name Perry hosted in August 2011.

News isn't always surprising.

What would have been surprising was the announcment that Rick Perry was taking his campaign to Florida after South Carolina.

Getting out the way he got out — before the election instead of after — kept Perry from confirming his low poll numbers with a race through Saturday. If Newt Gingrich finishes ahead of Mitt Romney after Perry's withdrawal and endorsement, the governor can claim part of the credit.

And embarrassing as some parts of this race turned out to be, Perry probably didn't do permanent damage to himself.

Aides are already floating the run again idea, a normal exercise when you're protecting a politician from being ignored as a lame duck.

Perry blew this election, falling apart faster than a soggy taco shell. It was obvious almost from the start that he hadn't done his homework and wasn't ready. He got in after months of speculation that weren't matched by preparation. After an impulsive start, he never made it a competitive race. Nearly perfect on paper, he rapidly became a joke on television and on the stump, with a knack for saying the wrong things with perfect delivery —  think of Ben Bernanke — and flubbing his lines when he was saying the right ones — like that blown early debate line when he was trying to attack Romney and got lost in his own prepared sound bite.

"Oops" is what we'll all remember, but that came well after voters had left the building. By November 9, when Perry couldn't remember the name of that third federal agency, he was already down to about 10 percent in the polls. He had broken 30 percent right after Labor Day, his peak.

But time is everything in politics.

The governor has three years left in his term, and a regular legislative session next year. He's still got the power of vetoes and appointments, and has to be reckoned with. And he's still the leader of the Republican Party in a state where Democrats remain in a political deep freeze.

The governor who got tagged for winning with just 39 percent in 2006 has a knack for being out of favor when it doesn’t matter and back in favor when it does. It's the same guy who, two years ago, was miles behind Kay Bailey Hutchison in the polls and who, one year ago, had just vanquished her and Democrat Bill White.

Now he's at a low point, but the legislative session is a year away and this will all be old news by then.

He's not necessarily out of the national mix, either. Perry's riffs on federalism and states' rights are popular with Republican voters, and more effective coming from a governor than from someone in Washington. He's got time to talk, and something to talk about.