Signals are growing stronger by the day that Rick Perry is getting ready to jump into the Republican presidential fray.
It began a few weeks ago, when the Texas governor began changing his tune about running, suggesting he might jump in after all. Now, two of his top political advisers are available, having been part of Thursday’s mass exodus from the troubled campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In fact, Dave Carney and Rob Johnson are reportedly heading for the Texas capital.
There are also reports that Governor Perry has been talking to his high-dollar donors.
Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history at 10-1/2 years, would bring formidable strengths to the race. Start with the Texas economy. The state led the nation in job creation last year. As of April, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston are the No. 1 and No. 2 metro areas nationally for their annual rates of job growth. Statewide unemployment, 8 percent, is below the national average.
Perry is also charismatic and appeals to both tea partyers and religious conservatives.
“He believes he’s got credentials and credibility, not just with conservatives but with wider parts of the Republican Party, more so than others in the race,” says Bruce Buchanan, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. “He’s pretty good on the stump.”
Perry has never lost an election. He served six years in the Texas Legislature, then became Texas agriculture commissioner. He served as lieutenant governor for one year under Gov. George W. Bush, then ascended to the governorship after Mr. Bush became president. Perry has since won election as governor in his own right three times.
Perry also has no policy positions, present or past, that would give him problems with base Republican voters – unlike former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s health-care reform and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s past support of a cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse gases.
But Perry’s record isn’t all sweetness and light. Texas has some of the lowest high school graduation rates and highest poverty rates in the country. In 2009, he showed sympathy for Texans who wanted to secede from the United States, over the issue of federal mandates – a position that might play well with some conservatives but not with moderates.
It’s not clear that he really can appeal broadly to all segments of the Republican Party, including non-Christian conservatives, let alone win a general election.
Perry has sparked controversy with his recent call for a Christian gathering of prayer and fasting at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Aug. 6. He has invited all US governors as well as “national Christian leaders,” according to the website of the event, called The Response.
"Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters,” Perry writes on The Response’s home page. “As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy."
Reactions by watchdog groups have been fierce. Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to Perry on Thursday, urging him to drop his sponsorship and promotion of the event. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization based in Montgomery, Ala., warns that one of the rally’s organizers, the American Family Association, engages in antigay activism.
But the biggest problem of all for Perry on the national stage might simply be that he’s the governor of Texas. Just as “Bush fatigue” might have discouraged former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush from jumping in this cycle, so too “Texas governor fatigue” may factor against Perry.
And if you close your eyes and listen to Perry speak, you might think it’s George W. Bush. The resemblance is almost uncanny.