Emphasizing his humble roots and military service, former Gov. Rick Perry made official Thursday what he has been hinting at for some time: He's running for president in 2016.
"It's time," he said to a few hundred flag-waving supporters. "It's time to create real jobs; to raise wages; to create opportunity for all; to give every citizen a stake in this country; to restore hope — real hope to forgotten Americans."
He made the declaration while standing in front of a white cargo plane with a "Perry for President" logo inside a hot hangar at North Texas' Addison Airport. The event had the feel of a Fourth of July picnic, with a floor-to-ceiling American flag, white fold-up chairs, and red, white and blue decorations everywhere. By the end, Perry and others on the stage appeared to be sweating heavily.
The military was a key focus. Perry was surrounded by Navy SEALs and other famous veterans. And he talked about his own military service, the service of his father and his trip to the American cemetery at the site of the D-Day attack in Normandy, France. The plane serving as his backdrop Thursday was a C-130, the same type he flew in missions in Europe and the Middle East while a captain in the U.S. Air Force.
"I was proud to wear the uniform of my country," Perry said.
He also described growing up in Paint Creek in West Texas. His family had an outhouse for years, and his mom hand-sewed his clothes until he left for college, he said.
"There is no person on earth more optimistic than a dryland cotton farmer," he said. "We always know that a good rain is just across the corner, no matter how long you have been waiting."
And he touted his executive experience — 14 years as governor of Texas. During that time, he dealt with hurricanes, a crisis at the state's border with Mexico and the first diagnosis of Ebola in America, he said.
"This will be a 'show me, don't tell me' election, where voters look past the rhetoric to the real record," he said.
He then took a jab at some of the U.S. senators in the race, including Rand Paul and fellow Texan Ted Cruz.
"The question of every candidate is this one: When have you led?" he said. "Leadership is not a speech on the Senate floor. It's not what you say; it's what you have done. And we will not find the kind of leadership needed to revitalize the country by looking to the political class in Washington."
Perry has been actively campaigning for months, making regular visits to early-voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He's working to ensure that this attempt will go better than his first run for the White House.
When he ran in 2012 while still governor, he was perceived as a favorite, but quickly stumbled. Conservatives criticized him for his support of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. And his infamous "Oops" moment at a GOP debate — when he couldn't remember the third federal agency he wanted to dissolve — became a source of mockery. He has since admitted that he wasn't fully prepared as a candidate and was suffering from health problems that sapped his sleep and concentration.
Before Thursday's announcement, Perry had made clear that this time will be different. He has studied policy in addition to the extra time devoted to early primary states. But the political atmosphere has also changed. The field of Republican candidates is larger, and generally perceived to be stronger. Perry is barely registering in nationwide and early primary state polls. And, of course, he remains under indictment on allegations that he abused his power in an effort to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign.
And the setting in Addison gave him an opportunity to highlight Texas' economic growth during his 14-year tenure as governor — a key emphasis in his first campaign. The airport is just south of where a new American headquarters for Toyota is being built in Plano and a short drive north of the headquarters for ExxonMobil, AT&T and other fortune 500 companies.
But he avoided any explicit references to the challenges he faced. His 2012 run and his indictment weren't mentioned.
He did, however, lay out a few plans, though many were lacking in specificity. He said he would offer "a responsible plan to fix the entitlement system." And if he's elected, he said, he would freeze pending executive orders from President Obama's administration; approve the Keystone Pipeline; authorize the export of American oil and natural gas to Europe; and "rescind any agreement with Iran that legitimizes their quest to get nuclear weapons."
The announcement was part of a daylong rollout of his campaign. First thing in the morning, his website relaunched with his logo and a video introducing his campaign. Then, around 10:30 a.m., he emailed his supporters to tell them to tune in to his lunchtime speech. He took stage to an adapted version of the rap-country "Answer to No One," by Colt Ford.
"Rick Perry supporter, let's protect our border," the lyrics began. "To hell with anyone who don't believe in the USA. Rick Perry all the way."
As Perry supporters celebrated his campaign's launch, Democrats in Texas ridiculed his campaign reboot. The Lone Star Project mocked his time as governor, saying that the "best evidence proving the resiliency of Texas is that we have withstood a failed and self-serving governor like Rick Perry." The Democratic opposition research group American Bridge focused on Perry's new glasses, questioning whether they were causing him to misread unflattering polls. The group called his campaign "another sequel no one asked for."
Reporter Patrick Svitek contributed to this story from Addison.