CONCORD, N.H. — The humbled, scrappy way former Texas governor Rick Perry campaigned across New Hampshire on Thursday could serve as a lesson to former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, both of whom will be in the state this weekend.
When Perry first visited New Hampshire in August 2011, he was the Republican front-runner in the 2012 presidential contest. Hundreds wanted to meet him at his first event, held in the spacious backyard of the state’s deputy House speaker.
On Thursday he was in a windowless conference room of a small law firm in Concord, where he talked about foreign policy and his record as governor before small-business leaders and political types while they munched on sandwiches and wraps.
Now sitting with just 2 percent support in the most recent University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, Perry said he looks back on that moment when he was on top as “the greatest three hours of my life.”
These days, it is Bush and Walker who lead the 2016 Republican field for president. Perry warns these candidates that “it is a process” — in which a candidate could be on top one month, but struggling the next.
Former New Hampshire Republican chairwoman Jayne Millerick agreed.
“With a field of candidates potentially this large, there are going to be a lot of people up and down and a lot of dynamics between now and the day of the primary,” Millerick said.
After the lunch Perry spent nearly an hour at a small auto service center where he talked cars and met the owner’s two dogs, a golden retriever named Chester and an English setter named Tuvok.
Then it was off to the North Country, where he has a packed schedule of town hall meetings. Perry said he has learned from his experience running for president last time. He has already spent more days in New Hampshire than he did in all of the 2012 campaign.
Partly because of his lack of a robust campaign in the Granite State last time around, he is now starting from scratch here instead of building off of what he had.
For example, one of those having lunch with Perry was Mayor Ken Merrifield of Franklin. In 2012, he was a prominent Perry supporter. This time he said that while “there is a lot I like about Perry,” he is uncommitted.
“This is a different year, and there are a lot of candidates potentially running,” Merrifield said. “We’ll see how this plays out.”
To be sure, Perry did address a breakfast audience of nearly 100 business leaders at Thursday’s Politics and Eggs breakfast, as most potential presidential candidates do.
There Perry said that if he were in the Senate, he would have joined the 47 other Republicans senators who signed a letter stating their opposition to a potential deal with Iran involving nuclear weapons.
“Allowing Iran to get its hands on a nuclear weapon is not negotiable, in my opinion,” Perry said. “And I think the president is making an error.”
Among those who signed the letter is New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican.