FORT WORTH — Putting an end to a months-long flirtation with Republican primary voters and the national press, Gov. Rick Perry is definitively in the race for president and will officially announce the launch of his campaign on Saturday in South Carolina, aides confirmed Thursday.
Perry was already expected to make clear he was running for president at the third annual RedState conference in Charleston. Since news reports about the event never used the word “announce,” many assumed that Perry would officially kick off the event at some point afterward, perhaps at an event in Texas.
Perry is scheduled to speak at the conservative gathering at 1 p.m. in front of approximately 550 attendees, according to RedState.com. Two other Texan Republicans, former Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, both candidates for Congress, are also scheduled to speak at the conference that day.
Perry is also expected to attend an evening house party at the home of New Hampshire Rep. Pamela Tucker Saturday, according to the New Hampshire Union-Leader. Perry is then scheduled to head to Iowa, where his activities will include a GOP dinner Sunday where both he and Michelle Bachmann are reportedly expected to speak.
Perry’s national profile has soared this summer as Republican activists in key states have urged him to run for president, viewing him as uniquely credible on both social and economic issues. A nationwide McClatchy-Marist poll conducted last week found Perry in second place among Republican and Republican-leaning independents, three percentage points behind Mitt Romney.
The fact that Perry isn’t planning to continue to draw out the speculation is a surprise to some.
“I thought he’d try to get several bites at the apple the way most candidates do,” said Larry Sabato, a political analyst and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
That Perry’s camp had initially signaled that the Saturday speech in South Carolina would not be an official announcement means that the campaign may have decided to change its strategy, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.
“This is just the very early stages of a presidential campaign trying to get up on its feet,” Jillson said. “There have been little stumbles over the last 10 days or so that show us they are not completely ready for this announcement.
“They are putting a campaign together quickly,” he said. “They aren’t just quite ready. ... You just wish they were a little more together.”
Sabato speculates that Perry’s declaration means one of two things: he hopes to convey an image of a strong and straight-forward candidate or he is behind in the campaign and needs time to catch up.
“Perry is running as a straight-forward, tell-it-like-it-is conservative. Someone in that category doesn’t pussyfoot around,” Sabato said. “The other explanation is that he’s well behind the curve on organization and fundraising. After all, the other candidates have been at this for many months or years. Perry needs every day before the contests begin.”
Perry has drawn some criticism this week for planning to deliver such a newsworthy speech on Saturday, the same day as the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa. The move has been seen by some as a way to minimize the importance of the straw poll. Perry will not appear on the straw poll ballot but a write-in campaign is under way in Iowa.
As Perry has all but joined the race in recent weeks, a favorite parlor game among political observers has been whether Texas’ governor is really ready.
“The minute he does announce, he becomes target practice for everyone,” said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in presidential politics. “Now they’ve decided to let the shoe drop and get it out there.
“Why they chose this moment, I don’t know,” he said. “But I think he’s well positioned -- if he’s got the money -- to compete for the nomination.”
John Weaver, the veteran Austin political consultant who as the state party executive director wooed Rick Perry to the GOP in the late 1980s, but now works for another presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, warned that the honeymoon for Perry will be brief.
“He’ll get a lot of media attention and hoopla in the next 10 days and then we’ll have a race. Then we’ll get down to brass tacks,” Weaver said.
Perry has never lost an election but running in Texas is different from playing on the national stage, Jillson said.
“Rick Perry is a very successful Texas politician,” Jillson said. “But there are a lot of people in Triple A baseball that hit 350 with 50 home runs. Now let’s see if he can hit major league pitching.”
As the news broke Thursday afternoon, Perry gave what may turn out to be a historical souvenir to one journalist. A reporter with KVUE, an Austin television station, showed Perry a printout of an email alert from the Associated Press reporting that the Texas Governor was running for president. When the reporter asked Perry to confirm the news, Perry signed and dated the email.