MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Now, to a former Republican presidential candidate. Governor Rick Perry didn't generate enough support to stay in the race, and he's returned to Texas somewhat tarnished. But as NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports, his political opponents would be fools to underestimate Perry's power in Texas.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: This was not exactly the way 61-year-old Rick Perry imagined it when he decided to throw his hat into the presidential ring last year - at least $15 million down the tubes, and an electoral exhibition that was such a disaster that were he playing quarterback at his alma mater, Texas A&M would've lost 63 to nothing. Perry's debate performance was so mortifying that after his dismal showing in the Iowa caucus, the editorial board of the conservative Dallas Morning News called on the governor to quit the race, come home, and use his remaining campaign contributions to repay strapped Texas taxpayers for his security detail.
TOM JENSEN: Rick Perry's going back to Texas extremely unpopular.
GOODWYN: Tom Jensen is the director of Public Policy Polling, which conducted a statewide poll last week.
JENSEN: Only 42 percent of voters in the state approve of him now; 51 percent disapprove. Beyond that, there's a pretty strong sense that Perry's candidacy was a bit of an embarrassment to the state.
GOODWYN: Jensen says that Perry is so diminished that in a hypothetical match-up with President Obama, Perry only beats Obama 49 to 48 percent in Texas, one of the most Republican states in the country.
JENSEN: The crux of Perry's problem is that he came across as not being very smart. And it certainly doesn't help Texas's image and obviously, this made a pretty negative impact on the folks back home.
BILL MILLER: My prediction is if you saw him on the street today, it'd be like nothing happened.
GOODWYN: Bill Miller is a Republican political consultant in Texas. Miller agrees that Perry is coming home wounded. But he says the rich Republican soil that is the current Lone Star State electorate will help heal the governor's wounded pride.
MILLER: We're going to remember the mistakes, there's no question about that. But this kind of intense misery associated with it will pass. And if he can laugh about it, he'll get well fast.
GOODWYN: The governor still has nearly three years left on his term, and he could run again if he wishes. Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, Rick Perry has never been popular with Texas independents. The source of Perry's political strength is his ability to raise money.
Craig McDonald is the director of Texans for Public Justice, which tracks campaign contributions in Texas.
CRAIG MCDONALD: Rick Perry is going to be governor for three more years. I suspect his big-money supporters will line up behind him, just as they have for the previous decade.
GOODWYN: It is Perry's long tenure through which he derives much of his political power. The leaders of the state's regulatory and political infrastructure have all been chosen by him.
MCDONALD: Rick Perry still has a bureaucracy behind him. Perry has appointed all of the Texas appointees in the regulatory branches. Over 4,000 appointees still have their loyalty to Rick Perry.
GOODWYN: When Perry announced his bid for president, he raised $17 million in a matter of days - a feat which left his poorer competitors, like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum, goggled-eyed. Those donors are unlikely to turn their backs on the incumbent governor of Texas, if he doesn't turn his back on them. And making sure big campaign contributors feel appreciated has long been a Rick Perry specialty.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.
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