When Rick Perry jumped into the race, many of us expected his skill at retail politicking to swamp the field in Iowa and perhaps run away with the nomination.  Instead, a series of debate blunders and a lack of engagement in Iowa produced a stalled campaign struggling in the second tier.  Perry admits that a back surgery in July took a bigger toll on his campaign than previously acknowledged, but that’s no excuse for the errors:

Q: How is your back?

A: My back is great. I’m back running again for the last six weeks. I think part of the reason you have seen a somewhat different candidate on the debates is my health, and (I’m) both physically and mentally just back in the game. You have fusion on your back, and it takes you a while to get back on your game.

Q: So were you not feeling good in those early debates?

A: I would suggest to you that I was pretty fatigued. No excuses. It was error. It’s what it is. Look, if anybody is looking for the perfect candidate, I’m not it.

I had a conversation about this over the weekend in Des Moines with a couple of friends before the debate.  I’ve had back surgery — a laminectomy/disc evacuation, not a fusion, which is more serious — and five years later, I still have problems standing in one spot for a lengthy period of time.  (Disneyland can be a bummer in that regard.)  I couldn’t imagine having to go on the campaign trail a few weeks after surgery; in my case, I could barely walk without a cane by that time, and when I’m very fatigued, I still have issues with my right leg that can cause me to limp a bit.

That’s why I suspected that his performance issues were related to this surgery, and I’m not sure he’s entirely past them.  I’ve seen Perry in person a few times before this summer, and he has always been dynamic and charismatic.  In his campaign appearances this year, he has seemed more tentative, less energetic, and as a result less effective.  In Des Moines on Saturday, Perry’s appearance at a veterans forum a few hours before the debate still seemed tentative and reserved, although Perry ended up making a pretty good impression on the attendees.

Still, Perry is right that “it’s what it is” by this time.  If he was not prepared for the campaign trail, he may have been better advised to remain on the sidelines.  Over the last few weeks, though, Perry has managed to right the ship and perform better in the debates.  He’s also going on the campaign trail in Iowa, getting back to the retail politicking at which he normally excels.  Can he convince Iowa voters to give him a second chance?  Perry’s performance in the debate at least left him that opening, and we’ll see if he’s feeling physically fit enough to produce enough charisma to woo caucus-goers back to his banner.