Rick Perry needs to go all-in on one key state to get out of his deep, deep trouble

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) campaign is in deep financial trouble.

A week after Perry failed to qualify for the first prime-time Republican presidential debate, news broke that the former governor could no longer afford to pay campaign staff and would be asking his staffers to stay on as volunteers.

Once a considered a serious presidential contender, Perry’s inability to break through a crowded 2016 field has surprised political observers.

He hasn’t been able to regain the brief surge of national popularity he experienced after announcing his 2012 presidential bid, which flamed out on the heels of a monumentally bad debate performance. 

“No one should underestimate the depth of the hole he wound up in during the 2012 race and how far he still has to go to climb out,” prominent Republican strategist Liz Mair told Business Insider.

But if there’s an upside to not being able to pay staff and the accompanying complications, it’s this: Perry may have bottomed out.

He looks set to embrace the age-old role of the underdog, a difficult campaign strategy that has nonetheless helped lower-tier candidates launch themselves to the front of the pack in recent elections. Republican strategists say that Perry is better positioned than some of his Republican rivals to perform well in Iowa, which holds the first presidential caucus next February.

“Perry needs to basically move to Iowa,” said Matt Mackowiak, the president of the Potomac Strategy Group who is based part time in Austin, Texas. He advised Perry to “stay in volunteers’ homes, let volunteers drive [you] around.”

“For someone who has been the governor of Texas for 14 years, who has become accustomed to living with comforts, it is not a comfortable way to campaign,” Mackowiak told Business Insider.

Winning Iowa has long been one of the key ways that low-tier candidates can break out and build lasting momentum. For example, during the 2012 campaign, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) campaigned relentlessly in Iowa, visiting all 99 counties and attending small events that allowed him to connect individually with voters.

Republican strategists say that this type of path is now the only viable one for Perry, who is far more skilled at small-town retail politics than national debates.

“The good news for Perry is that he’s very good at retail politics because he actually likes people and talking to them and is an extremely warm, caring and forthright guy, unlike some candidates for higher office,” Mair said.

The most significant challenge that Perry’s cash shortage presents in the short-term may be psychological. Voters — and donors — tend to favour candidates who they know can win, and Perry’s poor fundraising performance is making his campaign appear weak.

“It looks like he’s a candidate headed in the wrong direction. There are enough candidates headed in the right direction that donors might be hesitant,” Mackowiak said.

But the changed landscape following the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision has allowed candidates to theoretically stay in the race much longer, through the unlimited contributions that large donors can make to the so-called super PACs supporting individual candidates.

Perry’s super PACs — which are in much better financial shape than his actual campaign — are poised to pick up some of the slack that official campaigns traditionally shouldered, including outreach and mailing to voters. Those groups amassed nearly $US17 million in the first quarter of fundraising. But federal law bars any of the groups from coordinating directly with the Perry campaign.

Nevertheless, Austin Barbour, a senior adviser to all three organisations, told NBC that he has been anticipating the pay freeze for “weeks” and that the groups are prepared to take over some of the normal campaign operations.

Though Perry’s campaign manager said he understood if staffers decided to seek other jobs, the governor’s team has remained publicly defiant.

And the Texas governor is far from the only candidate with financial problems.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is also struggling to raise cash, and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) is in even worse shape than Perry.

“Perry is the first candidate that is in this situation, but he’s certainly not going to be the last,” Mackowiak said. 


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