Nati Harnik, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Rick Perry is beefing up his team with presidential campaign veterans, readying TV ads in Iowa and making a policy pitch to conservatives by backing the flat tax in an aggressive effort to revive his struggling campaign.
With two months before the Iowa caucuses, a half-dozen candidates are vying to become the conservative alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is well-known and has the money and organization to compete across the map. Perry is the only one with the money — and now the talent — to take him on.
But Perry's been struggling for the past two months. He's endured campaign trail stumbles, bad debate performances and seen his national poll numbers drop as a result. His new team, beefed up policy platform and TV ads represent a new show of force and a push for the right-wing vote. The shift is designed to convince skeptical donors and supporters that Perry's resetting the campaign and can be the alternative to Romney they seek — and eventually the nominee.
Perry's team doesn't have much time to introduce their candidate to voters. Just two months remain until the Iowa caucuses, where Perry will have to make a strong showing if he's going to go on to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida against Romney. The longer he jostles with Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to win over social and tea party conservatives, the more it looks as though Romney will capture the Republican nomination.
To prevent that, Perry is bringing in Tony Fabrizio, a veteran who was chief strategist for Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, to help top Perry strategist David Carney. Also joining the team are strategist Nelson Warfield, consultant Curt Anderson and media guru Jim Innocenzi.
Former President George W. Bush's 2000 campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, has landed a top strategic role.
The new hires reflect that the Texas-based staff underestimated just how tough the national campaign would be — and just how much that's hurt Perry. After an August announcement that shot Perry to the top of national polls, he's recently slid into the teens in national surveys — and at just 10 percent in an NBC News/Marist poll in critical Iowa.
Republicans privately say that adding the new staff, particularly Allbaugh and Fabrizio, will give the Perry campaign credibility with the Republican establishment outside Texas and help convince donors that Perry does have a plausible or even likely path to the GOP nomination.
"These are guys who are serious players," said Phil Musser, a GOP strategist who advised former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's short-lived presidential campaign.
The new team will have a particular focus on the Florida primary, where money and TV ads matter most. As he's slipped in Iowa, Perry's team has increasingly turned to Florida as the make-or-break state for the Texas governor's campaign, Republicans say. Fabrizio, Anderson and Warfield have a record of success there: They helped guide Florida Gov. Rick Scott through a nasty and expensive Republican primary and then through the general election. Scott won by successfully appealing to tea party and conservatives in the state, a path Perry hopes to tread.
First, though, Perry has to compete in Iowa, where he plans the first TV ad of the presidential cycle this week. The moderate, week-long buy will run in Sioux City, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, the state's three key media markets, and on state cable stations. While the content of the ad wasn't immediately clear, Perry's still largely unknown — and likely to focus on introducing himself to voters with positive ads touting his background as governor and service in the Air Force.
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