Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday entered the crowded Republican presidential field, touting his lengthy executive experience and job creation record while hoping to tap into his party’s penchant for nominating retreads.
In his announcement, Mr. Perry predicted a “show me, don’t tell me” election in which voters will look past the rhetoric for the real record.
“The question of every candidate will be this one: When have you led? Leadership is not a speech on the Senate floor. It’s not what you say; it’s what you do,” he said, slipping in a shot at some of his Republican rivals.
“I have been tested,” the longest-serving governor in the Lone Star State’s history told supporters gathered in a sweltering airplane hangar in Addison, Texas. “I have led the most successful state in America. I have dealt with crisis after crisis — from the disintegration of a space shuttle, to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike, to the crisis at the border, and the first diagnosis of Ebola in America.”
But Mr. Perry’s White House hopes may hinge on the Republican historical pattern of selecting nominees they have passed over at least once.
With the exception of George W. Bush, every non-incumbent Republican presidential nominee for the past 50 years has been a do-over. Three candidates this time are hoping to continue that trend.
For Mr. Perry, who made a remarkable entry and abrupt exit from the 2012 campaign, this year offers a chance at redemption from what some analysts termed the greatest campaign flame-out of all time.
He joins former Sen. Rick Santorum, a fellow 2012 candidate, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a veteran of the 2008 campaign, as repeat candidates this time.
Republicans powered former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to the nomination in 2012 after his 2008 bid and aided Sen. John McCain, whose unsuccessful 2000 run preceded his 2008 campaign. Former Sen. Bob Dole was a third-time candidate when he won the nomination in 1996, as was Ronald Reagan in 1980.
George H.W. Bush in 1988 and Richard Nixon in 1968 were veterans of failed campaigns, too. President Ford was not a repeat when he won the nomination in 1976, though he was the incumbent, having taken over after Nixon’s resignation.
Political observers, though, said this year’s repeats start from weaker positions than those in previous nomination cycles.
“Past GOP nominees have tended to be well-established, well-respected figures with the party,” said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University. He said Mr. Perry, Mr. Santorum and Mr. Huckabee don’t “fit that bill.”
“Perry might have, but he so badly damaged himself in the last campaign that he lacks credibility this time,” he said.
Despite a strong record of job creation in Texas during his lengthy tenure, that may be Mr. Perry’s biggest problem in the race. Mr. Perry is struggling to generate the sort of excitement he had in 2012, when analysts predicted he would be the heavyweight opponent to Mr. Romney.
Mr. Perry also brings to this year’s campaign the unwanted distinction of having an indictment hanging over him after he was charged last year with two felony counts of abuse of power and coercion of a public servant. He denies any wrongdoing and says the charges reflect a partisan attack.
Mr. Santorum and Mr. Huckabee also face headwinds after distant second-place finishes in the 2008 and 2012 nomination races, which Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney won.
Polls show Mr. Huckabee running near the middle of the pack in polls and Mr. Perry and Mr. Santorum at the rear.
By contrast, Mr. Romney had established himself as the man to beat in 2012, and Reagan was Nixon’s most tenacious challenger in 1968 and put up a strong fight before losing to Ford in 1976.
“In a way, it could not have worked out better for Reagan,” said Craig Shirley, a Reagan biographer. “He lost the nomination by 57 delegate votes out of over 2,000 cast in 1976. His extemporaneous speech at the end of the Kansas City convention put to rest the notion that he was done with national politics. He gave a magnificent speech, overshadowing Ford, and convinced many across the country he should try one more time.”
Reagan picked as his vice president one of his opponents in 1980, George H.W. Bush, putting Mr. Bush in the pole position heading into the 1988 nomination battle.
“Bush was most definitely helped by his Reagan association and, according to some polls, a majority of Americans saw their vote for Bush as a vote for a third Reagan term,” Mr. Shirley said. “He swept into office basically as Reagan 2.0, kinder and gentler notwithstanding.”
Mr. Dole was the sitting Senate majority leader at the time of his 1996 bid. Mr. McCain made giant splash as the “maverick” candidate in 2000, paving the way for his nomination in 2008.
Mr. Perry had a much less auspicious 2012 run, including cringeworthy moments such as the time during a debate when he was unable to remember all of the major federal agencies he vowed to eliminate.
“It is going to continue to hang around his head,” said David Carney, a Republican Party strategist who worked on Mr. Perry’s 2012 campaign. “He does have a very narrow margin of error for other mishaps. Every candidate misspeaks, every candidates make gaffes because of the pace and routine if running for president, but he will be held to a higher standard.”
Mr. Perry has been open about his missteps. Since leaving office after 14 years as governor — the longest in Texas state history — he has focused on rebuilding his image and reminding voters of the record he compiled in the Lone Star State.
Campaign officials say the former governor plans to head back to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — early voting states where he has established political operations.