The date was Nov. 15, 2014, and the city was Palm Beach, Fla., but it could have happened anytime and anywhere: There was a flash of the Old Rick Perry, and it came as he was discussing why there is hope for his favorite punching bag — California.
"I want the Golden State to succeed. We need California to be a powerful, successful country," Perry said, almost instantly realizing the goof and nodding his head in sheepish acknowledgment.
After 10 long seconds filled with nervous laughter, the man whose gaffe-filled 2012 campaign is the stuff of modern political history corrected himself.
"That was a Freudian slip," he said, turning back to California. "We would really like to bring them into the United States so they can be a part of this country."
The episode was hardly a career-ending mistake, but it perfectly captured the tightrope Perry is walking as he gears up for a second bid for the White House, a campaign he is set to formally announce Thursday morning outside Dallas. Earlier Thursday morning, he erased any remaining uncertainty that he would run with the launch of a new website and one-minute video, both stamped with a "Perry for President" logo.
All the work he has done to atone for his disastrous 2012 bid will finally be put to the test, and the margin for error could not be thinner.
He is ready, and he wants you know it. He has spent hours quizzing policy wonks, logged thousands of miles in the early-voting states and assembled a staff that wants to put him in the White House, not just spearhead the Rick Perry Reputation Recovery Project.
Perry, a master of political fortune, will need all the luck he can get, faced with no shortage of disadvantages out of the gate. Single-digit poll numbers that cast doubt on whether he will even make the cut for the first primary debate in August. An abuse-of-power indictment without a clear end in sight. And a home state whose Republican establishment has far more options than it did for 2012.
His campaign will likely center on a fuller picture of his gubernatorial tenure, not just the so-called "Texas miracle" that hoists up the state as an economic beacon. He will remind voters he has something no other candidate does, especially the young, untested senators in the field: 14 years of executive experience. Foreign policy may not have come naturally to a governor, but he will seek to show that months of boning up have paid off. And the overall pitch will be wrapped in a renewed emphasis on his biography, most prominently spotlighting his hardscrabble upbringing on a dryland cotton farm in West Texas.
The announcement Thursday will highlight what Perry views as a life-changing chapter in that story: five years in the Air Force. He will be joined at Addison Airport by military heroes such as Marcus Luttrell, the retired Navy SEAL whom the Perrys befriended, and Taya Kyle, the widow of so-called "American Sniper" Chris Kyle. After the announcement, he will head to early-voting Iowa to participate in a motorcycle ride that doubles as a fundraiser for the Puppy Jake Foundation, which provides service dogs to wounded veterans.
The schedule left little doubt as to what exactly Perry is announcing Thursday. Even the soon-to-be-candidate has seemed to grow a bit tired with the if-I-run charade. He has dropped the disclaimer in recent interviews, telling a radio host last month that he is ready to "stand on that stage in the first debate."
In one last note to supporters Wednesday evening, though, Perry played coy.
"Anita and I are looking forward to talking about what the future holds tomorrow in Addison," Perry wrote. "We are confident in the decisions we make together and prepared for what the future holds for our family and this country. There is so much to look forward to."
And there is no going back now.