WASHINGTON (CNN) — This time, Rick Perry has nowhere to go but up.
Four years after his first presidential campaign was crushed by the weight of his debate gaffe and stump speech mishaps, the governor who spent 14 years presiding over Texas launched his second bid for the Republican nomination on Thursday.
“I’m running for the presidency of the United States,” Perry said at a sweltering rally in Addison, Texas, where the former governor and his guests on stage could be seen sweating profusely at the midday event.
Perry reintroduced himself Thursday as a Republican with military experience that distinguishes him from other GOP hopefuls. That biography — bookended by a poor upbringing in the small town of Paint Creek and by a job-creation record as governor — was not shared in 2012, his advisers say, but will be in 2016.
Perry, deeming himself someone who had “led the most successful state in America”, will also play up his relationships with veterans he has mentored.
At his event Thursday, he was flanked by a list of military veterans, including several Navy SEALs and Taya Kyle, the widow of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, and Marcus Luttrell, who Perry called a “second son” — a group that allows Perry to highlight his five years in the Air Force.
Perry has ditched the signature cowboy boots and added black-rimmed glasses. He’s spent the intervening years recovering from health problems and boning up on policy.
Now, Perry is asking GOP primary voters for a second chance.
“Let’s give them a second chance. Let’s give them real leadership,” Perry said, describing disillusioned Americans in a way that he could very much be describing himself.
Perry’s speech at Addison Airport outside Dallas — delivered without pause for more than 20 minutes even as sweat dripped down his face — focused primarily on foreign policy, which has been his calling card of late on the stump. His GOP competitors emerging from the U.S. Senate have looked down on the class of governors for lacking that foreign policy experience.
Perry took on that criticism head-on, even using a line of one of those senators, Ted Cruz, against him.
“The question of every candidate will be this: When have you led?” Perry said in a slightly-edited Cruz line. Then he turned it. “Leadership is not a speech on the Senate floor. it is not what you say. It is what you have done.”
Perry similarly handled the rhetoric of his political nemesis, Barack Obama. A new part of his stump speech harkens back to Obama rhetoric about healing the nation’s political ruptures. On Thursday, Perry promised to bring about a new era of bipartisanship, calling Obama “a divider who has sliced and diced the electorate,” language that appeared in Obama’s 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention that rocketed him to stardom.
Preceding his speech, Perry first released a video online early Thursday morning, telling voters “we have the power to make our country new again.”
“We need a president who bridges the partisan divide rather than widen — who brings people together. We must do right and risk the consequences.”
Kyle vouched for Perry in an email to supporters inviting them to the campaign kick-off.
“I got to know Rick and Anita Perry outside of the public eye, where I’ve had an up-close view of their humility and commitment to doing the right thing for people regardless of who gets the credit,” she wrote. “Believe me, they are a breath of fresh air in a political system full of people playing games and twisting the truth.”
Perry struggled badly during his 2012 campaign. He entered the Republican race to great conservative fanfare in August 2011 and unseated Mitt Romney from the party’s pole position — but quickly saw that status erode.
There was the “oops” moment in a CNBC debate, when Perry couldn’t remember the name of one of the three federal agencies he said he wanted to abolish. There was also a New Hampshire speech where voters wondered aloud afterward whether he’d been drinking.
Almost four years later, he enters the race struggling to make the top 10 in polls of a much-stronger Republican field, and with work to do to earn a second chance with voters.
After his Thursday launch, Perry will head to Iowa, where on Saturday he’ll be in the city of Perry to kick off a “Ride with Rick” event that benefits the Puppy Jake Foundation, a non-profit that provides service dogs to wounded veterans.
He’ll ride a motorcycle belonging to Taylor Morris, a Navy explosive ordnance disposal technician from Cedar Falls, Iowa who hasn’t been able to ride it since being injured in Afghanistan.
The ride will end in Boone, Iowa, where Perry will then participate in Sen. Joni Ernst’s “Roast and Ride” event — and begin courting voters in the first state to hit the polls.
The state has been Perry’s focal point since 2014. He’s made more than a dozen visits to Iowa, where he’s visited far-flung locales while remaining under the radar — and far from the media circus that followed his first bid.
Jane Jameson, an executive assistant who came to the Perry launch in Addison, said she’s eager to hear the Perry pitch but isn’t yet committed.
“It’s going to be really hard to narrow it down to one, but Rick will certainly be in contention,” she said.