One year ago it seemed possible, likely even, that Gov. Rick Perry would be at the center of the political universe right about now.
Reporters would be hanging on his every word. There would be a Perry running mate to ponder. And as Republicans prepared to gather at their national convention in Tampa, the Texas governor would be rehearsing his presidential nomination acceptance speech.
It didn’t turn out that way, of course, and the role Perry and Texas will jointly play in Florida next week underscores what happens to losing candidates and the states they represent.
Neither Perry nor fellow 2012 presidential candidate Ron Paul were given speaking roles at the convention. And the Texans are so far from the action — stuck at a resort about 30 miles from the event — that the GOP state chairman described his delegate transportation duty as a “logistical nightmare.”
Perhaps even more striking is the name of the one Texan who does have a prominent role at the convention: Ted Cruz. No one would have guessed that the former solicitor general, who has never held elective office, would be carrying the torch of Texas conservatism on a national stage. Or that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, now Cruz's vanquished rival, won't even be in Tampa.
Though Perry and his extended team of allies and former aides worked against Cruz's bid, Cruz methodically assembled a deep network of supporters in the Republican grassroots and handily defeated Dewhurst in the Senate GOP runoff.
“The idea that Ted Cruz would be highlighted at the Republican National Convention was a very remote prospect a year ago,” said Cal Jillson, political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “But there have been dramatic changes with regards to political leadership in Texas.”
In late August 2011, Perry began his short-lived ride as the presidential front-runner, but the intense media scrutiny and the punishing schedule took its toll. After a series of gaffes that culminated in his famous "oops" moment in November, Perry's once-promising candidacy lay in shreds, a late night comic's dream.
Dewhurst, a wealthy businessman and one of Texas' most powerful leaders as presiding officer of the state Senate, was the odds-on-favorite to win the Senate race. But a court-delayed election gave Cruz time to build support, and Dewhurst appeared to underestimate the decisive role that Tea Party activists would play in the election. His decision to skip dozens of candidate forums organized by Tea Party activists and allies proved costly.
While Dewhurst won't be traveling to Tampa, Perry heads there with at least a symbolically important role to play: He is chairman of the 307-member Texas delegation, the second-largest in the nation. It's unclear, though, if Perry will be the one to announce how may votes the nominee will receive from Texas. Perry is planning to address Florida's Leon County Republican Party on Monday evening, his spokesman Ray Sullivan said. Perry also has some speaking gigs and receptions lined up with the Ohio, Tennessee and Alabama delegations.
Sullivan said Perry would focus his efforts in Tampa on boosting support for the Romney-Ryan ticket, and down-ballot in Texas to pump up enthusiasm for Republican candidates back home.
"The governor will be spending a lot of time with the Texas delegation at a number of events. The goal there is to energize and encourage our Republican grassroots who have been instrumental to previous presidential campaigns in terms of volunteers and financing," Sullivan said. "Having an energized Texas Republican Party is good for the Romney-Ryan ticket and Republicans up and down the ballot."
Cruz is speaking in a prominent time slot Monday evening at the convention. U.S. Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco, R-San Antonio, announced that he will also speak Monday, but convention managers haven't released a time slot yet.
There are 155 delegates and 152 alternates in the Texas delegation. After the May 29 primary election results were tallied, the Republican Party of Texas calculated that Romney has 108 delegates, including three "superdelegates" who have signaled their support for him. Paul had 18, Rick Santorum got 12, Newt Gingrich was awarded seven, and Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Buddy Roemer received one delegate each. (Perry withdrew his name from the ballot before the voting began.)
Of the major presidential candidates, only Santorum is speaking to delegates from the convention podium. And all of them but Paul are releasing their delegates and endorsing Romney. What Paul hopes to accomplish by hanging on to them is not clear. An email sent to his campaign manager, Jesse Benton, went unreturned.
Convention managers gave Paul's son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a prominent speaking slot Monday night. Supporters have organized a rally for Ron Paul in Tampa on Sunday, a day before the official festivities get under way, and it's shaping up to be a final tribute of sorts. Paul isn't running for Congress again, so the GOP convention is likely to be his last hurrah.
Among the delegation are some notable names, like Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Comptroller Susan Combs, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and George P. Bush, nephew of former President George W. Bush. All told, there will be 4,411 delegates and alternates representing all 50 U.S. states and territories.
The Texas delegation is setting up residence at the Saddlebrook Resort, which is 28 miles from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the convention is to be held. Texas GOP chairman Steve Munisteri said the choice hotels tend to go to states that have some affiliation with the nominee, like well-treated Massachusetts, and to important swing states. Texas doesn't fit into either category.
To get to and from the event, delegates will be bused first to a transportation center that is even further away, then to the Times Forum. Munisteri expects the buses to arrive back at Saddlebrook after each night of the convention at about 1:30 a.m. The rooms are so spread out that delegates will have to be taken to their rooms in golf carts, he said.
"It's a huge logistical challenge," Munisteri said. "If you miss the bus, you're out of luck."