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Perry Mixes Discipline, Savvy Skill

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks with attendees at the Lincoln Day Dinner hosted by the Black Hawk County Republican Party in Waterloo, Iowa, on Sunday.

But Texas GOP insiders say the governor's opponents in the presidential race shouldn't assume he's a one-trick pony with nothing more than an anti-Washington screed. A review of a dozen Perry campaign television spots dating as far back as his 1990 run for agriculture commissioner shows a politician who has not shied way from kitchen table issues that appeal across party lines and can adapt to the politics of the moment. "That played out in every one of his campaigns for governor," the GOP operative said.

In 2002, Perry's first gubernatorial campaign, he ran on George W. Bush's then-popular coattails and focused on transportation, defeating a wealthy Hispanic businessman who spent about
$80 million of his own money on the race. In 2006, Perry prevailed despite a tough year for the GOP nationally, running on border security and tort reform. The themes of Perry's ads over the years have run the gamut.

His agriculture commissioner spots show him dressed in cowboy gear and working on a ranch as he talks Texas values and job creation.

His lieutenant governor and gubernatorial pitches show Perry in business suits walking through offices and classrooms, bragging about economic growth, property tax cuts, government investments in public education and health care for children and the elderly. He also boasted about hitting "irresponsible" health maintenance organizations and health insurance companies with millions in government fines.

"As governor of a state the size of Texas, you're involved with numerous issues that affect the lives of people," Miner said. "People are moving here because Texas has good schools and because of the good quality of life."

A Democrat in the Texas Legislature until 1989, when he became a Republican, Perry has never lost a race. He ran for agriculture commissioner in 1990, winning the first of six consecutive victories on the statewide ballot. Perry was elected lieutenant governor in 1998, becoming governor in late 2000 when Bush resigned to assume the presidency.

Perry has his critics. Some have hit the governor for being inarticulate on the stump, although Texans told Roll Call that he has improved markedly since earlier in his career. Others have said he is an empty suit with little to offer beyond rehearsed, political talking points. These critics say Perry might wear thin in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where candidates often meet individual voters several times in intimate settings before the first primary votes are cast.

But Perry supporters say this view might be the result of extraordinary discipline that extends to his campaign team, which is not prone to overreact to one bad news cycle or easily abandon an agreed-upon strategy.

Saenz, who managed the 2006 re-election bid, said Perry's campaigns tend to be deliberate in nature and characterized by patience.

For example, Perry allows an advertising message to stay on the air long enough to reach the targeted electorate before switching things up, compared with some of the governor's opponents, who would run with different themes from day to day.

One Texas Republican political consultant predicted Perry's presidential campaign ads would veer more into bread-and-butter issues than many expect, given his identification with the tea party and conservatism the governor famously said during a 2009 speech that states might be forced to consider secession if the federal government continued overreaching.

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