As former Gov. Rick Perry gears up for the 2016 presidential race, he is relying on a mix of old and new faces to build a campaign that he has insisted would be vastly different from his ill-fated 2012 bid.
It is a balance Perry's team is no doubt aware of as it seeks to present a candidate as similarly both old and new: a seasoned executive — Texas' longest-serving governor — with a revamped strategy for the presidential contest that notoriously vexed him four years ago.
Since its creation last year, more than two dozen people have been said to be formally and informally working for RickPAC, the political action committee laying the groundwork for Perry's likely 2016 bid. Almost a dozen had defined roles on the 2012 campaign. A few others either have experience in Perry's office or with groups that have supported him over the years. That leaves several who are relatively new to Perry's orbit, ranging from field workers in the early-voting states to some of the newest additions to his circle of senior advisers.
"He's still going to have a loyal group of people that have been with him over the years," said Mark Miner, a veteran of Perryworld. At the same time, Miner added, Perry's team is "putting new blood, new faces, in key places that will bring a fresh perspective."
The overall effect, according to people familiar with the hires, is a team that can reintroduce Perry to voters without losing sight of the tough lessons of 2011, when he jumped into the race backed by an organization that at times seemed improvisational. This time, Perry's high command has given itself significantly more time to assemble a team for the long haul.
The rebranding of Perry is already underway, with his allies speaking enthusiastically of the "Paint Creek story," shorthand for Perry's rise from small-town Texas to the Governor's Mansion, an up-by-the-bootstraps narrative they say voters never had a chance to hear during the 2012 contest. The operation is plowing ahead as Perry continues to poll in the low single digits in the early-voting states he has frequently visited over the past several months.
"There definitely hasn't been any movement in terms of how many people say he's their first choice," said Tom Jensen of the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, estimating Perry consistently ranks in the back of the pack among Republican primary voters. However, Jensen added, Perry has high favorability ratings compared with his potential rivals, meaning he is "well-liked enough and has a sort of reservoir of good will that he could stand to be the beneficiary of if a Scott Walker or Jeb Bush falls apart."
Among some Perry advisers, that's how the thinking currently goes: Unlike last time around, Perry is now prepared to seize the spotlight when it swings his way — something that seems inevitable in a crowded field where front-runners will rise and fall. RickPAC recently brought on board a man familiar with that exact scenario: evangelical Christian activist Jamie Johnson, a key player in Rick Santorum's come-from-behind victory in the Hawkeye State in 2012.
"We were used to seeing him in the low single digits until mid-December, three weeks before the Iowa caucuses," Johnson said of Santorum. "It doesn't matter where you are in the polls in spring of 2015."
At the helm of Perry's 2016 effort is Jeff Miller, a Perry confidant who's a relatively fresh face in the former governor's innermost circle but no stranger to his political designs. Miller led Perry's 2012 campaign in California and served as a top fundraiser there. He has effectively filled the void left by Dave Carney, Perry's longtime political maestro who parted ways with the former governor after his 2012 bid.
Also near the top of Perry's nascent 2016 campaign is Rob Johnson. As Perry's 2012 campaign manager, Johnson is among those working for RickPAC who were involved in the last go-around, a group that includes early-state operatives Katon Dawson of South Carolina and Robert Haus of Iowa. On Tuesday, RickPAC announced it was bringing on board another major figure from 2012, director of finance Margaret Lauderback.
The newer faces include some of RickPAC's most recent hires, such as Jamie Johnson and Washington, D.C., fundraiser Erin DeLullo. The Iowa-based Johnson is focusing on outreach to the early-voting states, while DeLullo is serving as Perry's top liaison to conservative advocacy groups. They join chief counsel Don McGahn and senior adviser Greg Strimple as RickPAC recruits who have not previously worked for Perry.
Johnson said the mix of talent is a testament to Perry's political staying power.
"You have to be a large man to keep veterans of your past campaigns and to attract newcomers to your new campaign. Only large people can do that," said Johnson, whose title is senior director of RickPAC. "Some — I don't want to say their name — they're completely lacking their ability to do that, and you don't see new people coming on to their campaign."
Strimple, a Republican pollster who worked on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, said Perry won him over with his candor about 2012, offering a "cut-and-dry analysis" of the ill-fated bid.
"I have to say when I sat down with the governor, I was not prepared to be joining his team," Strimple said. "What I find in American politics today, very few candidates are self-aware, and what I took away from my meeting was a level of self-awareness about his missteps in 2012 and what the future needed to look like that I was frankly blown away by it."
Perry's quest for political talent both new and old has not been without some setbacks, though. Last month, Perry adviser Terry Nelson effectively cut ties with the former governor after Nelson's two partners at their Washington, D.C., firm pledged allegiance to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's 2016 campaign-in-waiting. And key members of Perry's 2012 team have since set their sights on other potential candidates, including George Seay, who served as Perry's Texas finance chairman in 2012 but is now backing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
"I'm 100 percent for Sen. Rubio in 2016 if he runs, and that doesn't have anything to do with any of the other candidates," said Seay, a Dallas investor. "Marco's by far my best friend in the race."
RickPAC's money operation is already in full swing, with longtime Perry fundraiser Katie Herries coordinating receptions for donors in Texas and elsewhere.
In an early show of organizational power last month, RickPAC released a list of dozens of prominent GOP donors who were supporting Perry. Like the team taking their checks, there were new names, and there were old names.
In any campaign, Miner said, "you want a good mix of all of the above — no matter who it is."