INDIANOLA, Iowa — Nearly four years ago, Rick Perry, then a newly minted presidential candidate, blew into Iowa late, unprepared and antagonistic toward his rivals.
This time around, he’s here in the crucial presidential-primary state early, can rattle off obscure statistics, and speaks optimistically about his vision for his party and the country.
“I think the American people [will] give the Republican Party one more chance to govern,” he said on Sunday at a small campaign event in Indianola, near Des Moines.
“I think that November was a step in that direction, and in November of 2016, we will hear the rest of the story,” he said. "And we will find out if the American people really trust Republicans."
Perry hasn't announced his candidacy yet, but he spent his first weekend after leaving the Texas Governor’s Mansion in central Iowa positioning for his likely second presidential run. He’s betting that he can spend the next year making up for his disastrous first impression in the Hawkeye State.
And early on, voters say they're giving him that chance.
About 40 people — double the number Perry's aides projected — showed up at his Sunday event, which was held at a local chain called Pizza Ranch. Most of the attendees were alerted to the event by an email from the local Republican Party.
Perry rolled in on time, greeted every person in the room and, glancing at name tags, addressed each attendee by name.
In his nascent stump speech, he hit on common themes from his 2012 bid, especially the strength of the Texas economy and his affinity for the 10th Amendment. But he also sought to show a more well-rounded side of himself, bragging about how his tax policies allowed wealthy Texans to build theaters and art museums in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.
He also peppered his off-the-cuff remarks with facts and figures ranging from the number of physicians in Texas to the geographic layout of the Marcellus Shale to the names of various Republican officeholders in Iowa.
His unstated message was clear: There will be no “Oops” moment this time around.
Several conservative voters interviewed here over the weekend said that they thought Perry’s much-publicized back problems were the culprit of his 2011 missteps, and that they're keeping their minds open.
Karen Lambert, a lighting specialist from Des Moines, caucused for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — who is also eyeing another presidential bid — in 2008 and former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul in 2012.
She largely ignored Perry in 2011 because of his troubled campaign. But she said she felt drawn to the pizza gathering because she was impressed with his speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday in Des Moines.
Unsolicited, she also brought up the topic of Perry’s legal troubles.
“I don’t blame him for it,” she said of his indictment last year in a case stemming from his veto of funding for the state's public integrity unit. “I think it’s ridiculous.”
Lambert, like most of the attendees, said she was impressed by Perry but eager to hear his rivals make their case for the nomination.
Iowa voters spend more time scrutinizing primary candidates than most people commit to buying a new car, and this year, Iowans confess to an embarrassment of riches in the GOP field, which could include another Texan, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida; and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Iowa Republicans proved ruthlessly fickle in 2012, when a new candidate seemed to climb to the top of the polls every couple of weeks, only to collapse shortly thereafter.
No one interviewed at Perry's event said he had completely closed the deal for them yet. But he earned at least one soft yes, from a Republican named Phil Higgins.
“If the elections were today," he said, "I’d vote for him."