WASHINGTON — He's brash. He's successful. He's a red-meat Republican. And he has good hair.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is emerging as a potential new hope of the GOP's bedrock conservatives for the top of the 2012 presidential ticket. Perry says he's "thinking about" running for president, and he seems to make a splash wherever he goes, as the Republican Party's core is still looking for someone to get excited about.
"I think he covers two bases in the Republican primary: He has tea party credentials and sterling social issues positions," said GOP activist Pat Oxford, the chairman of the Houston-based Bracewell and Giuliani law firm. "He's as good as it gets in the two most important areas for Republican voters."
As for making a White House run, Perry spokesman Mark Miner said "he's still thinking about it," while a special Texas legislative session the governor called winds down by June 30. "No specific time frame" on a decision, Miner said, "except this summer at some point."
In Austin, political consultant Bill Miller is confident that Perry will announce his presidential exploratory committee shortly after the Fourth of July. "He's going, going, gone," Miller said.
But Perry's longtime political strategist, Dave Carney, said in an interview Tuesday, "I think it's 50-50." While he confirmed that Perry's aides are compiling filing deadlines in Iowa and other key early-voting states, a decision will be "logistical," he said, based on whether there's enough time to build a campaign and raise the millions needed for a serious run.
Meanwhile, Perry, who was a big draw at the conservative Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans last weekend — where his call "to displace the entrenched powers in Washington" drew raves — continues to keep a high profile.
On Tuesday, Perry, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, spoke at a fundraiser in St. Louis. On Thursday he'll be in San Antonio to sign a bill at Boeing Co.'s production plant that will reduce taxes on the 787 Dreamliners built there.
He'll also speak to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials at its convention Thursday in San Antonio, a speech to watch since many Hispanics are opposed to Perry's support for a new law requiring identification at the ballot box and for pending Texas legislation that would block state aid to local governments that prohibit police from asking people about their immigration status.
Perry's relationship to Hispanics, the nation's fastest-growing voting bloc, is complex, given his pro-family, anti-abortion agenda and strong anti-illegal immigration position as a Mexican border governor.
As part of his conservative social-issues credentials, he's invited the nation's governors to a "national day of prayer and fasting" Aug. 6 in Houston, a move that gives him a platform to court evangelicals.
While Perry isn't that well-known in the mainstream national media, he's been a stalwart among conservatives for his positions on social issues and popular with tea party activists for his tough fiscal stands and challenges to the federal government. For example, he refused $555 million in federal stimulus money from the Obama administration in 2009 for state unemployment benefits because he said it would expand coverage that ultimately would cost the state more.
One of the nation's longest-serving governors — this is his 11th year — Perry excites the conservative base with his in-your-face style to the Obama administration; he famously suggested that Texas may want to secede.
He also has a strong Texas economic success story to tout. According to Richard Fisher, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, 37 percent of net new American jobs created since the recovery began have been in Texas.
Perry boasts about the Lone Star State being first in the nation as business-friendly, as recognized by various business media groups, and he's accomplished that by being tough on state budgets and state taxes — Texas is one of only seven states with no state income taxes — and keeping business taxes low.
He's at odds with environmentalists and educators over his hardball approach. After Texas limited awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, he drew the enmity of trial lawyers, but supporters say doctors flocked from around the country to practice there.
A former Democrat who switched parties in 1989, Perry has never lost an election. He first won election to the Texas House of Representatives in 1984, then was elected Texas agricultural commissioner, lieutenant governor and finally governor, succeeding George W. Bush in December 2000. He served out Bush's second term and has been elected governor on his own three times, most recently in 2010, when he trounced the more moderate Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the primary, then handily beat the Democrat, former Houston Mayor Bill White, in the general election.
Perry has written two books, "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington," published in November — an anti-Obama manifesto — and "On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For," out in 2008.
A former Eagle Scout who was a strong supporter of the Boy Scouts banning gay troop leaders, Perry will speak June 29 in San Diego at a Boy Scouts dinner.
Perry is a former Air Force pilot who ran his family's Texas cotton ranch before getting into politics. The governor carries himself with a ramrod straight military air, though he's very careful with his nice head of hair, so noticeable that the late Austin pundit Molly Ivins pronounced him "Governor Goodhair." The nickname stuck.
Will the country accept another Texan so soon after the unpopular Bush?
Bush political adviser Mark McKinnon said Perry had so many positives with Republican primary voters that "the only question is why wouldn't he run?"
"Perry has honed a tough anti-Washington message that resonates powerfully with Republicans right now," McKinnon said. "He's the longest-serving governor in Texas history. Most of the nation's jobs in the last few years have been created in Texas. And he is a tough, focused and veteran campaigner who can raise money overnight. He could win Iowa. He could win South Carolina," two early-voting states in the 2012 GOP nomination battle. "Then he'd be off to the races."
Iowa holds the first GOP caucuses on Feb. 6, followed shortly afterward by New Hampshire's primary and then South Carolina's.
Still, Perry has a lot of ground to cover: Even in a poll of Texas voters released last Thursday by the Texas Lyceum, a nonpartisan leadership group, Perry came in at 9 percent, trailing former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, who led the GOP pack with 16 percent support.
A recent national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Romney with a substantial lead among Republicans nationally, with 30 percent, and the unannounced Perry at 8 percent.
But, said Carney, Perry's selling point to the GOP right is: "If you're going to hire someone to run against Obama, he's the only person you would hire. Obama's lost millions of jobs, and Perry's created hundreds of thousands of jobs."
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