DES MOINES - Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said today he jumped into the last presidential campaign too late, which provided a valuable lesson he intends to keep in mind as he weighs his political future.
"If I were to be making a plan for 2016, coming to Iowa early and often will be part of it," Perry told reporters here. "But that's a bit premature."
On the opening stop of a two-day visit to Iowa, Perry met with business leaders over lunch, highlighting his economic record during his dozen years as the governor of Texas. He sidestepped questions about whether he intended to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, but seemed to revel in the speculation.
"It's fun to be back in Iowa again and see some old familiar faces and continue a conversation that we started nearly two years ago," Perry said. "2016 is so far down the road. It will all take care of itself and sort itself out at the appropriate time."
But by agreeing to come to Iowa, where the precinct caucuses have traditionally kicked off the race for the White House, Perry opened the door to an early round of questions about whether he will ask voters to give him a second look. He is headlining a Polk County Republican fundraising dinner here tonight.
Perry entered the 2012 Republican campaign with high anticipation, but did not meet the expectations of his supporters. He started his candidacy less than five months before the first votes were cast and struggled to recover from a series of early gaffes. He ultimately finished fifth in the Iowa caucuses and left the race after the South Carolina primary.
"Since we were not successful, I would suggest there are some other things that we would do differently, but I have no idea what I'm going to do," Perry said, repeatedly calling it "premature" to be discussing the next presidential campaign.
But regardless of what Perry decides to do when he leaves the governor's office in January 2015, he is working to keep his options open and getting a jump-start on making a fresh impression in the minds of influential Republican activists. He criticized the partisanship and gridlock in Washington, saying it was time to have a "civil discussion" about moving the country forward.
His visit here comes two weeks after fellow Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz came to Iowa to headline a state Republican Party fundraising dinner. While Perry did not mention Cruz in his remarks to reporters today, he said it was Republican governors who were the party's most tested leaders.
"The real future of America is in the state capitals," Perry said.