Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday he won't make up his mind about running for president until the middle of next year, but he doesn't feel pressure to announce sooner because most people expect that he will.
"People think we're going to run, and that's not necessarily a bad thing," Perry said in an interview with The Associated Press as he prepares to leave office next month after 14 years as governor.
While a formal announcement may be a ways off, the longest-serving chief executive in Texas history sounded Tuesday like a candidate preparing for his next campaign.
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Perry cited his state's low taxes, restrained regulatory climate and caps on civil lawsuit damages as the reasons behind Texas' economic success. He argued the state's record in creating jobs during his time in office can convince potentially skeptical supporters that he's worth a second look after his short-lived 2012 presidential bid.
Another Perry campaign will undoubtedly include numerous recountings of his "Oops" moment on a debate stage in 2011, when that word was all he could muster after he forgot the name of the third of three federal departments he'd promised to shutter if elected.
Asked if those who supported him in 2012 might shy away this time given the results, Perry said: "I think people are going to make a decision based on what they see over the next couple of years, not what they saw four years ago.
"There's not going to be a lot of hope in this country," Perry said, if people don't have the ability to recover from their past mistakes.
Perry also departs the governor's mansion facing charges of felony abuse of power and the prospect that a court case could drag on for months and land him in prison. Yet Perry said he's confident voters are willing to give him a second chance.
Perry's failed presidential campaign remains the only loss of his political career. He was the state's powerful lieutenant governor when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush was elected president, and he went on to win three terms. He has spent much of his final year as governor meeting privately with policy experts and traveling in the U.S. and abroad -- an effort viewed by most as aimed at improving his White House credentials.
In an email to supporters late Monday, Perry said he and his wife, Anita, "hosted more than one hundred business and political leaders from around the country in Austin" last week, describing attendees as both longtime supporters and new contacts.
"I think people are responsive to a candidate that has proven that that they are substantially better prepared and reflecting," Perry said.
Perry was able to raise money with ease during the first months of his 2012 bid. But he refused to discuss Tuesday whether those same donors are willing to invest in him again, or whether they might be spooked by the allegations that his veto of state funding for public corruption prosecutors amounts to criminal abuse of power.
"That's a rather theoretical question and I don't touch theoretical questions," Perry said.
Bill Miller, an Austin-based GOP consultant who has worked for both Perry and some of his opponents, said many top Texas donors who have supported the governor for years will continue to do so. But he added that Perry will have to win over those "beyond the base."
"He's got to be a good candidate, show them that he's viable," Miller said. "Last time the expectations were sky-high. Now they're rock bottom."
Perry insists he'll be a better prepared should he run again, ready to withstand the barrage from potential primary opponents ads featuring his "Oops" moment on a loop.
"My job is to make sure that when you ask me about, `How does it feel to be humbled?' that I very quickly get that answered," Perry said. "And then talk about what's going to be humbling: When we don't have everyone in this country that deserves a job having a job."