The buzz about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s possible entrance into the presidential race grows, but the Republican’s cheerleaders ought to tread carefully when it comes to a Perry candidacy — very carefully.
Perry, 61, surely would be a serious contender for the GOP nomination, at least initially. He looks the part of a politician (even down to his hair) and has the kind of résumé that immediately credentials him for the role of president.
After a stint in the Texas House, he served as agriculture commissioner and then lieutenant governor before assuming the state’s top elective office when George W. Bush resigned to prepare to be inaugurated president.
Perry has since been elected governor three times: in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
The governor has proved his political mettle, easily turning back allegedly strong Democratic challengers in 2002 (wealthy businessman Tony Sanchez, who led a Democratic “dream team”) and in 2010 (former Houston Mayor Bill White) and narrowly winning a multi-candidate general election in 2006, when Republican officeholder Carole Keeton Strayhorn and celebrity Richard “Kinky” Friedman ran as Independents and fractured the electorate.
But Perry’s greatest triumph might have been his utter destruction of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in last year’s GOP gubernatorial primary.
Hutchison, backed by former Bush strategist Karl Rove and his allies, led Perry by more than 20 points in some early polling, and even a May 2009 poll for Perry found the governor down by 6 points. But by the time election night rolled around, Perry had tied Hutchison to Washington, D.C., and he crushed her by more than 20 points.
Insiders agree the current animosity in Texas between the Bush and Perry forces is real and dates back to 1998, when Perry was running for lieutenant governor and then-Gov. Bush needed him to win so that a Democrat would not succeed Bush if he won the presidency in 2000.
Fearing Perry was headed for a loss, his team wanted to “go nuclear,” to quote one well-versed insider, against Democrat John Sharp, while Bush strategists opposed the tactic as far too risky. Bush operatives ultimately won the argument, and Perry won that race very narrowly. Still, the disagreement created considerable resentment, which still lingers.
Campaigning is Perry’s greatest strength.
“He’s a terrific campaigner. He’s great at seeing where conservatives are and forming a populist message that appeals to them. And he has great message discipline. If you give him a message-of-the-day, he always figures out how to stay on it,” said one Texan who has watched him close-up. His fundraising abilities are somewhat less certain because he has never raised funds under federal limits.
Except for one glaring exception, the governor has spent years criticizing government, bashing Washington, D.C. — even suggesting secession was an option for his state — and pushing a conservative agenda. He has obvious appeal with tea party activists and all stripes of conservatives in his party.