WASHINGTON -- In his farewell speech to a less-than-sterling run for the presidency, Gov. Rick Perry offered a message for his fellow Texans.
"So now the journey leads us back to Texas, neither discouraged nor disenchanted, but instead rewarded for the experience and resolute to remain in the arena and in the service of a great nation," Perry promised. "And this I know: I am not done fighting for the cause of conservatism."
Perry will be picking up the fight in a much different arena than the one he left when he began his failed campaign last August. But he comes back to the Lone Star State less like Tim Tebow -- the popular religious-minded quarterback to whom he once compared himself -- and more like Tony Romo, the cowboy quarterback whose late-game gaffes have bewildered Texans.
Put simply, it's tough for Perry to go home again. A recent poll had him losing in the state to Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Today, the hashtag #welcomehomegoaway became a popular trending topic on Twitter in Austin. His onetime Tea Party rival Debra Medina endorsed the sentiment, tweeting, "Gov. Perry, welcome home. Now, please retire."
After a decade of Perry's vanquishing foes with relative ease, there's a sense among Austin politicos that the presidential run exposed him as unsure, easily distracted and out of his depth. Democrats now have a treasure trove of debate foibles to use in future campaign commercials. Now Republicans don't fear his once intimidating inner circle.
"There's been talk of people trying to convince him to consider an alternative path for several days now," said Miller, whose firm is one of the most politically connected in the state. "I heard that people in the campaign were urging him to consider an alternative path. I think that donors probably spoke nonverbally by not writing checks."
Perry made the right move, Miller said. "Getting out is smart," he said. "It's a dead-end street. Cut your loses and come back home to your day job."
Perry's fate in Texas will depend largely, Miller said, on the governor's attitude. "Texas is sympathetic to him," he insisted. "He will come back to a sympathetic audience. If he's positive, he'll be fine. If he comes back and wants to punish people ... it can be a different place for him. It's kind of his call."
Michael King, Austin Chronicle's news editor, agrees with Miller in part. "Texas politics is backward enough that it may come back and embrace him," he said. But the governor is going to have to do more than just smile through the statehouse. "He hasn't paid much attention at all to Texas politics, and we got serious health care problems, serious health insurance problems, serious drought problems -- many of which can only be addressed through federal money."
Perry may have a limited honeymoon in Texas. "I think there has been Perry fatigue brewing in Texas for some time," said Jeff Rotkoff, a Democratic consultant in Austin. "There are Republicans who smell blood in the water ... Clearly Democrats are energized."
The Texas governor isn't up for re-election until 2014. Ray Sullivan, his communications director, has left the door open for another presidential run in 2016. But that seems highly unlikely.
At least one Perry backer sees a silver lining in the candidate's failure. Dan Shelley, his former legislative director, formed two super PACs -- Jobs for Vets Fund and Veterans for Rick Perry -- in support of his former boss. Now, he can finally reunite with Perry after those campaign finance laws kept them apart. They can hang out without the taint of possible Federal Elections Commission violations.
When reached by Huff Post this afternoon, Shelley did not want to comment for this story. But he said of Perry: "I'll probably visit with him in the next day or two."