FORT WORTH — While the outgoing Texas governor was set to give a farewell address at the kickoff of the state's Republican Party convention, Rick Perry's remarks on Thursday sounded more like a "see you soon."
Addressing a lively crowd of delegates at the Fort Worth Convention Center, Perry emphasized aspects of his tenure as governor, hitting on issues central to Republican voters in a speech that left the door wide open for a possible 2016 presidential bid.
Following a video tribute to his legacy, Perry asked supporters to help “rebuild” the country by electing a Republican president who could adopt “red-state policies in Washington.”
“We need to set the stage for 2016 when we will win the White House and we will rebuild the American dream,” Perry said, not mentioning his own prospects. “Let’s roll up our sleeves, let's get to work and let’s rebuild America.”
Perry dropped out of the 2012 presidential race after an unsuccessful bid mired by blunders. But he has made clear he is considering another run, and has been traveling the country recruiting businesses to Texas and telling reporters that America is a place for second chances.
While introducing the governor, first lady Anita Perry also hinted at her husband's future, saying they both had "tread left in our tires."
At the convention, the longest-serving governor in Texas history went through the usual bullet points that have become a staple of his public remarks — promoting economic development and new jobs, low taxes, individual liberties and smaller government.
A major critic of the Affordable Care Act, Perry also bashed President Obama for his signature health law, which required most Americans to purchase health insurance this year. While some states chose to expand Medicaid to cover uninsured adults under the federal health law, Perry refused to expand the state’s program, saying it should be reformed instead.
On Thursday, he called Medicaid expansion “federal blackmailing,” receiving loud cheers from the crowd.
But it was Perry’s focus on promoting state sovereignty and improving conditions for veterans that received the largest praise from the Republican delegates. He called for "fixing" Washington politics so the federal government stayed out of state business. And he touched on the ongoing scandal around excessive wait times at veterans' clinics across the nation, saying it was an illustration of the inadequacy of government-run health care.
“If you need any greater evidence that government-run health care doesn’t work, ask a military veteran,” Perry said.
In his speech, Perry also reiterated his endorsement of Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott in his election against Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis. Perry went after the Democratic efforts behind Davis, brushing aside efforts by Battleground Texas to mobilize voters and make Democrats competitive again in a state that remains reliably Republican.
“The national Democrats think Texas is the new battleground,” Perry said. “Well let’s be really clear: Texas will be their political burial ground.”