Rick Perry certainly knows how to make an entrance: The Texas governor, while stopping short of formally announcing, will remove any remaining doubt he’s running for president Saturday during an appearance in South Carolina, the same day as the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa.
His decision to run dramatically reshapes a Republican field that has struggled to generate excitement among the Republican base and produce a credible alternative to the front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Perry remains untested on a national stage, but his dual appeal to social and fiscal conservatives and his record as a big-state governor immediately make him one of the field’s most formidable contenders.
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“He’s getting in the race sort of late, but by no stretch of the imagination is it too late,’’ said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. “He knows how to make the tough decisions, and that’s what voters are crying out for now. There are a lot of us who believe Washington is much of the problem, and he’s been a leader of that movement, more power to him.’’
The announcement isn’t unexpected—the governor has signaled for weeks he will run—but it is bold. “It really steps on the straw poll and will get the headlines,’’ said Bob Schuman, referring to the Iowa contest in which many of Perry's potential GOP rivals will be participating on Saturday. Schuman is a senior strategist for Americans for Rick Perry, an outside group trying to lay the groundwork for a Perry campaign.
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The ability of Perry to flaunt and try to upstage the traditionally important straw poll underscores the stature he already possesses within the party. Despite a late start—Perry only seriously began considering a campaign in May—the governor has already shown significantly better poll numbers than some of his chief rivals.
The group had originally planned to set up a booth at the Ames Straw Poll in the candidate’s absence but was turned down by the Iowa GOP. Perry’s name will not appear on the ballot, but participants can write it in. His speech in South Carolina is likely to pump up the number of write-in votes he will receive. After his South Carolina appearance, Perry will fly to another state that holds a key early presidential contest: New Hampshire.
Perry’s record as governor of the Lone Star State, a position he has held since 2001, is his biggest appeal: Texas has added an avalanche of jobs while other states have been hemorrhaging them. According to the Dallas Federal Reserve, Texas accounted for half the country’s jobs growth the two years after June of 2009, a total of roughly 260,000 slots. It’s an enviable record for the governor, and one he and conservative allies attribute directly to the state’s low tax burden and favorable business climate. The Washington D.C.-based Tax Foundation states that Texas, which does not have a personal income tax, has the fifth-lowest tax burden in the country.
Texas’s economic record is not unalloyed: The rates of students graduating high school and citizens without health insurance are among the nation's worst, according to the Census 2009 American Community Survey. Even so, Republicans think Perry's got a potent message in a primary where voters are focused on the economy.
“He’s created an environment for job creation that is certainly impressive, and if he chooses to enter the presidential race that will be at the forefront,’’ said Pam Tucker, a New Hampshire lawmaker hosting Perry in the Granite State on Saturday night. “He will be a key player in this race.’’
Perry also has a strong appeal to social conservatives and evangelicals, still a key voting bloc within the GOP. That was no more apparent than last Saturday when more than 30,000 Christians traveled to Houston to pray for the country’s future, an event, dubbed The Response, the governor helped organize.
On Monday, however, fielding questions about the governor's plans, his top political spokesman pivoted to highlight the governor’s economic record.
“With President Obama’s dismal economic record, and Texas’s success in creating jobs and balancing our budget, Governor Perry continues to consider a potential run for the White House,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. “Stay tuned.”
The venue for Perry’s Saturday announcement is also telling. The governor will deliver his remarks to the Redstate Gathering, an annual meeting of conservative activists headlined by influential blogger Erick Erickson. Perry helped welcome the group last year when it held its meeting in Texas's capital city of Austin.
The party’s activist wing, including the tea party movement, set the tone for many of the GOP’s 2010 primaries, including Perry’s. He crushed primary challenger Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who was expected to be a significant threat to Perry, after successfully framing the race as a battle between a Washington insider and protector of states' rights. The tea party's loyalty in a Republican primary could pay huge dividends for Perry.
“The race is shaping up as who can beat Barack Obama and who is the best alternative to Mitt Romney,” said Erickson. “And none of the candidates so far has been able to consolidate those two goals like I think Perry will try to do.”