PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Governor Rick Perry of Texas, under indictment on abuse-of-power charges, returned Friday to the state that snubbed him in 2012, promising that if he decides on a second presidential bid, he will be more prepared.
Perry also carried a dire warning from the nation’s southwest border, saying that lack of security there may have permitted the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, to slip terrorist cells into the United States.
“They may have already used our southern border, because we know it’s porous,” said Perry, calling for increased “boots on the ground” and aviation assets to beef up border security.
The third-term Republican, who is not running for reelection this year, later told reporters he did not have evidence of an ISIS presence in the United States. Pentagon officials have said they have seen no proof of ISIS coming across the Mexican border.
But, noting that he was speaking in the native state of James Foley, the freelance journalist beheaded on camera by ISIS, Perry said, “Unfortunately, in this state, it has been brought right to your doorstep. . . . They have told us that they’re coming. And why should we not take them at their word?”
Perry pleaded not guilty Tuesday to two felony charges that he abused his authority, stemming from his veto of funding for an anticorruption unit in the Travis County district attorney’s office. The Travis district attorney, Democrat Rosemary Lehmberg, refused to relinquish her seat after a drunken driving arrest last year, video of which shows Lehmberg berating officers.
Addressing a group of business leaders gathered in an office building here, Perry called the indictment “an attack on the constitutional duties of a governor,” adding that “I’m going to fight this with every fiber of my being.”
Perry also joked that Travis County, home to the state capital of Austin, is a liberal outlier in the predominantly Republican Lone Star State, calling it “the blueberry in the tomato soup, if you know what I mean.”
Perry’s trip to New Hampshire, his first since the 2012 presidential campaign, comes as the GOP has rallied around him, including one of the state’s most prominent Republicans, former governor John H. Sununu, who has criticized the charges against Perry.
That marks a significant shift from the 2012 primary, when Sununu, a top backer of Mitt Romney’s campaign, was part of a phalanx of Romney supporters who helped swat down Perry’s insurgent bid.
Part of Perry’s appeal to the Republican establishment was evident Friday, as he articulated a robust view of the US role as global enforcer, distinguishing him from a wing of the party that is more reluctant to commit American resources abroad.
Perry said the window for “limited” air strikes in Iraq, targeted at ISIS, had closed.
“These people need to see a whole lot more of the US air power,” Perry said. “Now.”
In the Far East, Perry said that China “needs to be watched very closely,” calling for an escalated US presence there, as well.
“Economically, militarily, we need to be influential in that part of the world,” Perry said.
Perry finished sixth in New Hampshire’s presidential primary in 2012, a final blow to his campaign after a disappointing fifth in Iowa and a string of harmful debate performances.
Perry said he had derived “humbling and frustrating” lessons from his previous presidential run.
“One is, if you’re going to do this, you shouldn’t have major back surgery six weeks before you announce,” he said, alluding to the procedure that some Perry backers blamed for his subpar debate performances.
More important, he said, he wanted to spend more time preparing to run before deciding whether to do so.
“I don’t care how good you might think you might be, that you’ve been elected governor of Texas three times, served 12 years. It is not good enough from the standpoint of the preparation to run for the presidency of the United States,” he said.
If he runs, Perry would probably seek support of the party’s business and national-security hawk factions.
“This recent incident, the indictment, tells me more about his leadership than less,” said Eddie Edwards, a Republican state Senate candidate and former police chief. “And I say that because it’s not often you see a governor willing to put himself at risk to hold another official accountable. That tells me all I need to know.”
Perry had a high-visibility two-day schedule for his Granite State swing, including an event with Americans for Prosperity to discuss business taxes later Friday in Manchester and a “defend freedom” pork roast on Saturday.