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The Rick Perry Tea Leaves

Governor of Texas Rick Perry speaks at the 2011 CPAC conference in Washington DC on Friday, February 11, 2011.(Chet Susslin)

The Texas legislature is holding a special session to consider another round of redistricting, but pols at the state Capitol in Austin are more interested in the answer to that other burning question: Is Gov. Rick Perry running for a fourth term?

Conventional wisdom holds that the longest continuously-serving governor in the country is done after almost 15 years on the job. But the CW might be changing: Maybe Perry wants another shot.

This year's legislative session was notably free of the sort of conservative red meat Perry is used to delivering the year before he runs for re-election. The bipartisan tone legislators have struck was once taken as a signal that Perry didn't need to rile up the base in advance of a primary election. But top Texas observers see things differently -- specifically, a record that Perry could turn into a campaign platform.

The Austin American-Statesman headlined its weekend Perry story, "Session puts Perry where he wants to be," and featured a litany of quotes from Democrats, Republicans, and independent analysts saying Perry has been as hands-on as ever in 2013, having mastered the levers of power at the statehouse. The San Antonio Express-News's Peggy Fikac laid the situation out thusly: "If Perry launches another bid for re-election or even president ... some suggest the businesslike regular session could be more of an asset than the red-meat portfolio he carried into his first run for president." Perry oversaw passage of a major water deal and over $1 billion in tax cuts this year, among other items.

Earlier, others observing the same session and seen the lack of new abortion laws or other conservative cultural issues as a hint that Perry wasn't looking to stick around. "Nor have the last few months been filled with the kind of partisan intensity that characterized the run-up to Perry’s 2012 presidential run, when he ... used his emergency powers to push conservative priorities on abortion, voter identification laws, property rights and immigration," wrote the Texas Tribune's Jay Root, one of the state's preeminent Perry chroniclers, last week. "A governor bent on a potentially tough re-election campaign would be expected to exhibit more aggressive and confrontational behavior," Root continued. In April, the American-Statesman surveyed opinion in the statehouse and concluded that "Perry's relatively low-profile performance this session" had helped convince many Texas political observers that Perry was a governor with one foot out the door.

So which interpretation is right? At the moment, neither; in the unknowable future, both. Whatever Perry ends up announcing, hindsight will show plenty of signs leading to that decision, and in the meantime, the state's media are forced to analyze imperfect data about a tightly held secret. At this point, though, the betting in Texas doesn't seem quite as heavily stacked against Perry trying for another term.

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