Election 101: 11 questions about Rick Perry and his White House bid

James Richard Perry wants to hang his cowboy hat in the White House. The Texas governor announced Saturday at a campaign stop in South Carolina that he was running for president. He was also traveling later in the day to New Hampshire, and planned a trip to Iowa on Sunday.

Governor Perry is a shrewd politician who oozes Texas swagger. His rock-solid record is buttressed by his state’s impressive jobs record. But is America ready for another cowboy president?

1.Who is Rick Perry?

Texas Governor Rick Perry talks about the federal budget before signing House Bill 1, of the 82nd regular session, and Senate Bill 2, of the 82nd special session , Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce. Perry will announce on Saturday that he will run for the 2012 Republican nomination for U.S. president. (Amarillo Globe-News, Roberto Rodriguez/AP Photo)

A fifth generation Texan from the tiny West Texas town of Paint Creek, Perry is the Eagle Scout son of Democratic tenant farmers.

After majoring in animal science at Texas A&M, Perry joined the US Air Force, where he completed pilot training and flew C-130 transports. He left with the rank of captain, joined his father’s cotton farm, married his childhood sweetheart, and was elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

In 1989, Perry became a Republican (“I made both parties happy”), then won successive roles as Texas agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor, and, in late 2000, governor.

Perry is the longest-serving Texas governor. He is known as much for his stellar record creating private-sector jobs in Texas as for his syrupy accent and cufflinks-and-cowboy boots style.

Why is he running?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Summit at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011. (Lisa Krantz/AP Photo/San Antonio Express-News)

Until recently, Perry wasn’t even considering running. What changed?

His posture has shifted since observing what has been called an uninspiring GOP field and a party electorate dissatisfied with its choices. Given Perry’s credentials – including his executive experience as governor of one of the largest, reddest states in the union – he may feel almost obligated to run. He’s also received encouragement from across the country, including, most importantly, from his wife.

“The GOP electorate is signaling it’s still open to a new candidate that excites them,” says Ford O’Connell, director of the Virginia-based Civic Forum PAC. “Here we have a guy from a booming red state – why not? It’s a great match.”

Who is his base?

"Romney has the backing of the establishment, country club Republicans. Bachmann has right-wing populist backing. Perry has a foot in both camps,” says Allan Lichtman, history professor at American University in Washington, D.C.

Perry is poised to successfully court both the GOP establishment as well as the tea party, and as a lifelong Texan, can capture the growing Sunbelt vote.

“He has true crossover appeal,” says Mr. O’Connell.

What are his strengths?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, right, gives a fist pump to Pastor Tony Evans, left, after speaking at The Response, a call to prayer for a nation in crisis, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011, in Houston. Perry is spoke at the daylong prayer rally despite criticism that the event inappropriately mixes religion and politics. (David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

"Well, he certainly has the hair,” says James Riddlesperger, a political scientist at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. “Rick Perry is someone who you can underestimate very easily,” says Professor Riddlesperger. “What really stands out is his primary asset – he’s a darn good politician.”

His record bears testament. Under Perry, Texas created more private-sector jobs than all other 49 states combined over the past decade, a huge asset in an election that will center on jobs. He also closed a $15 billion-plus budget deficit without raising taxes, refused $555 million in federal stimulus money from the Obama administration, has a strong border security record, and is a fervent supporter of states’ rights, all stances a Republican electorate will appreciate.

He’s also a fund-raising dynamo with a fat Rolodex from a strong Republican state who likes to campaign and effectively uses three Twitter accounts, text messaging, Facebook, and e-mail to build a grassroots base.

No wonder he’s drawing raves from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who told his radio audience that if Perry joined the race, “it’s a brand-new day, and it starts all over again.”

What are his weaknesses?

In a word, Bush.

“The last thing anyone wants is a reminder of the Bush administration,” says Lichtman.

The big question: Is Rick Perry more Texas than the nation can handle? Will the country accept another Texan as president so soon after the unpopular George W. Bush?

Though his background is anything but Ivy League political establishment, the Texas governor who many swear sounds just like Mr. Bush will be hard-pressed to distance himself from his predecessor as Texas governor.

Adds O’Connell, “To be a successful candidate, he has to cut back on volatile rhetoric.”

Indeed, if GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney is by the book, Perry sometimes appears to be off the reservation, such as with a 2009 comment that Texas could secede from the union. He pushed into controversial terrain when he signed a bill mandating that women view sonogram images of the unborn child and hear its heartbeat before an abortion can be administered.

What are his chances?

FILE - In this July 27, 2011, file photo, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at a ceremonial bill signing for a new tort reform measure in Houston. According to Perry spokesman Mark Miner, the Texas governor will announce on Saturday, Aug. 13, that he is running for president. (Pat Sullivan/AP Photo/File)

Still, if anyone could overcome his weaknesses, it's Perry, says O’Connell. “I’m not sure that America’s ready for another cowboy president, but Rick Perry could certainly change that,” he says.

How are his finances?

Perry has yet to form an official campaign committee, so his finances remain unknown. However, an outside group called Americans for Rick Perry recently raised $400,000 in three weeks.

Perry's extensive networks (he is chair of the Republican Governor's Association and has received endorsements from Haley Barbour, as well as the Texas delegation) should make Perry immediately competitive on the fund-raising front.

What is his political experience?

Perry began his career as a (Democratic) member of the Texas House of Representatives (1985-1991).

He then went on to become Texas's commissioner of agriculture (1991-1999) and lieutenant governor (1999-2000) before succeeding George W. Bush as governor, a role he's held for more than 10 years.

He is currently the longest-serving Texas governor.

What is his family and religious background?

Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks during "The Response", an event billed as a call to prayer for the nation in crisis, at Reliant Stadium in Houston August 6, 2011. Perry will announce on Saturday that he will run for the 2012 Republican nomination for U.S. president, CNN reported on August 11. Picture taken August 6, 2011. (Richard Carson/REUTERS)

Perry is married to childhood sweetheart Anita Thigpen, with whom he has two children, Griffin and Sydney.

A Methodist, Perry is a self-described social conservative who opposes gay rights, same-sex marriage, and abortion.

What books has he written?

Texas Governor Rick Perry autographs his book "Fed Up" prior to speaking at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver on Friday, July 29, 2011. Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are scheduled to give keynote addresses Friday night. (Ed Andrieski/AP Photo)

His most recent book, "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington," is a dig at the current administration and a proposal for more limited government.

"On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts are Worth Fighting For," celebrates the Boy Scouts and criticizes the ACLU.

In his own words

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2011 file photo, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks in Houston. Perry's spokesman said Thursday that Perry is running for president. (David J. Phillip/AP Photo/File)

"To use a football analogy – I mean, we're talking about Texas – it's not who hands you the football and it's not where the ball is handed to you, it's what you do with the ball after you have it."