Rick Perry enters presidential race. Can he overtake Mitt Romney?

Rick Perry touts his track record as a tax cutter and social conservative in Texas, stealing some thunder from other candidates on day of Iowa's straw poll.

Alice Keeney/AP
Texas governor Rick Perry announces he is running for president at the Red State Gathering in Charleston, S.C.

Rick Perry declared himself a candidate for president, in a move that adds a strong new contender to the Republican nomination contest.

With his intentions now official, the Texas governor is already viewed as potentially able to knock former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney out of front-runner status. One recent opinion poll shows the two nearly tied, and ahead of others in the pack.

Governor Perry framed his speech Saturday around a simple message - that with a different occupant in the White House, Americans will be able to revive their economy and claim a brighter future.

"Page one of any economic plan to get America working is to give a pink slip to the current resident in the White House," Perry told an audience in Charleston, S.C. He said that if elected he would "work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your lives as I can, and free our families, small businesses, and states [to] create, innovate, and succeed."

The announcement comes the same day that other Republican hopefuls were appearing at the Iowa straw poll, a litmus reading of heartland voters that has long been an early milestone in the nomination process.

Though Perry was not formally part of the vote-seeking in Ames, Iowa, his campaign hopes for a show of support there through write-in ballots.

The timing of Perry's announcement may help him keep a lid on headlines about rival candidates coming out of the straw poll. But on Fox News, former Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee called the timing a "tactical mistake."

Many Iowa voters, whose support Perry will seek down the road, may feel he has rained on their candidate-sifting parade, Mr. Huckabee said.

Despite his late entrance to the campaign, Perry could quickly become a formidable contender.

He brings a combination of substantial strengths to the race: A job-creating track record as chief executive of one of the nation's largest states, strong conservative credentials on social issues, and a buzz factor as the newcomer in a field of candidates that has largely failed to enthrall Republican voters.

In his South Carolina appearance, Perry exuded energy and confidence and was cheered loudly by his Republican audience.

By contrast, although Romney can claim business-leader as well as gubernatorial experience, many conservatives aren't sure he's one of their own on social issues. And he supported a Massachusetts health care reform law that has close parallels to the federal law they deride as "Obamacare."

And although Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has big fans on the tea-party right, she hasn't occupied a governor's mansion.

President Obama's team wasted no time in trying to dim Perry's Texas star. Obama's reelection campaign called Perry a "carbon copy" of the congressional Republicans who would not reach for middle-ground compromise on fiscal policy.

Some critics add that, as a Texan, Perry would also strike general-election voters as too similar to George W. Bush, who presided over rising federal debt and a job-destroying financial crisis.

Like Bush, Perry emphasizes low taxes and low regulation as keys to economic policy. Yet that approach during the Bush years didn't prevent a major financial crisis and recession in 2008.

The Texas economy, for its part, may not be as much of a national model as Perry and his supporters claim. Measured by gross domestic product per capita, the state's economy under Perry doesn't look remarkable.

With his formal campaign now under way, the Texas governor will also now face a heightened level of media scrutiny on the national stage.

On Saturday, though, he took on the demeanor of a conquering hero to many Republicans.

Perry pledged to limit and simplify taxes, repeal Obama's health care law, and to rebuild America's standing in the world.

"America is not broken," he said. "Washington, D.C., is broken."

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