Rick Perry in New Hampshire: Is 'oops' still a 2016 problem?

Many voters remember the disastrous 2012 presidential run by Gov. Rick Perry, highlighted by his 'oops' when words failed him in a debate. Now, he's spending two days in the key early-voting state of New Hampshire.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Texas Gov. Rick Perry gestures as he speaks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. Perry is spending Friday and Saturday in the key early-voting state of New Hampshire, meeting top local operatives while attending a series of Republican fundraisers and other events.

Rick Perry is not letting an indictment on felony charges slow him down. Not in a political sense, anyway. Days after a Travis County, Texas, grand jury voted to indict him on charges related to his veto of funds for public corruption prosecutors, Governor Perry is in New Hampshire, running for president at full tilt.

He’ll tramp through the key early-voting state Friday and Saturday, meeting top local operatives while attending a series of Republican fundraisers and other events.

Yes, we know the convention is to describe trips to this state as “testing the waters” or something like that. The conceit is that candidates want to see how much appeal they have and whether a try for the Oval Office is feasible.

But we say that right now, Perry’s position is similar to that of Hillary Rodham Clinton: The default is “go.” Both are planning on running, unless some obstacle arises that causes them to change their minds. One lesson of recent presidential nomination cycles is that winners start early.

And the New Hampshire trip is probably intended to help Perry with his biggest problem, presidential-wise. That’s not his indictment, at least for now. He’s used the publicity surrounding his legal woes to portray himself as a governor who is being pursued for openly doing what he thought best for the state. The conventional wisdom of the punditocracy appears to be that so far, this is working.

No, Perry’s biggest challenge is that GOP primary voters are not excited about his nascent candidacy. That’s been true for quite some time. Many voters remember Perry’s disastrous 2012 run, highlighted by his infamous “oops” when words failed him in a debate.

The Texas governor has got to figure out a way to pump supporters up. Maybe vowing to fight the indictment “with every fiber of my being” will work.

Or maybe not. Look at the polls to see what we mean: In the RealClearPolitics running average of 2016 GOP nomination surveys, Perry is sixth. He trails New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

At this stage, voters remain fickle and their political attachments can change, so a back-of-the-pack position isn’t fatal to a candidate’s hopes. But it’s not a positive. And Perry trails rivals from the whole spectrum of the party. He’s behind establishment guys, tea party favorites, and a moderate Northeasterner. There’s no clear base for him to build upon.

A recent McClatchy-Marist survey, which helpfully breaks respondents into various subgroups, shows what we mean: The only category where Perry outperforms his overall average is “independents,” where he gets 11 percent, as opposed to his 7 percent overall share. That might be great in a general election, but GOP primaries are dominated by true believers.

Perry’s hope might be that he’s both well known and relatively well liked in the party. A Gallup "scatter plot" from July shows he has one of the highest name-recognition rankings among possible candidates (64 percent) and one of the highest net favorable ratings (+46 percentage points).

That means he’s positioned to be the second choice of many voters if their first choice falters or they change their minds.

“There is no clear leader at this point on the Republican side – indicating that the race for the GOP nomination is essentially wide open,” writes Gallup chief editor Frank Newport.

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