Two years after his whirlwind, presidential campaign ended with a thud, Rick Perry is writing the story of his comeback.
And when he strode onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference this month, he appeared to believe in the narrative.
“I am here today to say we don’t have to accept recent history,” Perry bellowed, bringing a still-groggy morning crowd to its feet. “We just have to change the presidency.”
For months, Perry -- the three-term Texas governor who walked in late to the prior Republican presidential primary as an instant, if short-lived, front-runner -- has deliberately tried to position himself to be the one to change the presidency this time, should he choose.
But starting from the bottom presents an unfamiliar, challenging climb: The man once heralded by Texas Monthly as the “great campaigner” now must prove that he ever was, or could be again.
“It’s very difficult to make a second first impression,” said Dave Carney, Perry’s former longtime political guru. “But redemption is something our country has embraced from the very beginning.”
Perry has yet to decide, officially, if he will seek redemption in a second presidential campaign. He said in a recent interview with CNN that he plans to wait a year and a half before arriving at any public decision.
“He’s going through the steps to gauge the temperature of how warm the pool is,” Carney said.
For Perry and his team, step one has been coming to terms with the problems of Perry’s last campaign and resolving to fix them.
Perry's fleeting primary bid was riddled with missteps. It was thrown together in six weeks -- leaving little time to raise money, introduce Perry in the press, and schmooze with voters in early-primary states. It also happened to coincide with a major surgery on Perry's back, which interrupted his sleep schedule and left him in a rough state to compete in a grueling national campaign.
Then, famously, Perry’s performance in a Republican debate eclipsed everything else, when he couldn’t remember one of the federal agencies he would eliminate. “Oops,” he conceded on live television. Before Perry could define himself, one word did the job.
“He's got a lot of accomplishments, a very strong record on the economy, and I think a lot of people didn't see it in 2012,” said former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who built a relationship with Perry when both were in office. “But they're becoming more aware of it.”
Perry’s political team is deliberately and gradually re-introducing Perry to the American public, with precious few distractions. Perry announced last year that he would not seek a fourth term as governor, freeing him from the burden of another campaign and, after the election to fill his slot, the duties of running the state of Texas.
In the meantime, Perry has been cooking up a campaign like a slab of Texas brisket, low and slow.
He has traveled to Iowa and South Carolina, important early-voting states, on multiple occasions, and Perry has crisscrossed the country touting Texas' record on jobs, quietly connecting and reconnecting with Republican Party donors and power brokers along the way.
Perry launched the group Americans for Economic Freedom to advertise his message on the economy, an important facet of his political brand, and lured a prominent GOP fundraiser, Jeff Miller, from California to Texas to run it.
To boost his standing in Washington, Perry's team has been working with the consulting firm FP1 Strategies, co-founded by Rob Jesmer, who worked for Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, when Cornyn was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
And Perry has saturated cable news and print media with appearances and interviews, replacing his once-signature don’t-mess-with-Texas veneer with a new uniform of clean-cut glasses and staid loafers.
But his message of states' rights and fiscal conservatism is the same, aides say. It's just coming from a more practiced messenger.
“He is better positioned and better understands the landscape to run in 2016 compared to where we were in 2011,” said Ray Sullivan, a strategist who worked as Perry's presidential campaign communications director.
Recently, during the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Perry taped an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, another stop on the governor's now-perpetual media blitz. As it often does, the topic of Perry's last bid for the presidency came up.
"If you want to find out everything, I mean everything, about yourself, some of which is even true, run for president,” Perry told Kimmel.
Would Perry run for president again in 2016, Kimmel asked?
Perry wouldn’t say. But, he added, “America is a great place for second chances.”