The governor's message was a perfect fit for a conservative-leaning state with a strong libertarian streak. Texas has no state income tax, counts the energy industry as among its biggest economic drivers, has a part-time Legislature and has among the weakest governorships of any state in the nation. But it also fit Perry, whose long-held conservative populism was finally given a prominent voice — and a hungry audience — in a then-burgeoning movement that would become the tea party.
These factors helped him score an easy victory over Hutchison and a third candidate in that 2010 gubernatorial primary. Perry did not even need a runoff to secure renomination.
"It's probably one of the most remarkable political transformations I've seen," National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said. "He's got good political instincts, and he's good on the stump — and he's adjusted to the new normal of Republican politics."
Perry, 61, was an elected Democrat until 1989 and has never lost a race.
In 1988, while still a state legislator, he served as chairman of then-Sen. Al Gore's (D-Tenn.) presidential primary campaign in Texas. Running as a Republican in 1990, he narrowly defeated incumbent Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower (D) for his first statewide victory, even as Ann Richards won the gubernatorial race for the Democrats. In 1998, Perry won an open seat for lieutenant governor — considered the most powerful elected position in Texas — by less than 2 points.
Perry aides reject suggestions that the governor has only recently found his footing as a leader. Spokesman Mark Miner noted that while Perry has received more national attention since 2009, he has fought for the same conservative principles throughout his career. In fact, Republicans who have followed him say his switch from the Democratic Party was not one of convenience because it was unclear in 1989 that the GOP was poised to dominate Texas electoral politics.
David Carney, one of Perry's chief political advisers, said in telephone interview that the governor intends to make a decision on whether to run for president before Labor Day. Carney said the Perry team is preparing to ramp up a national campaign in about six weeks, as opposed to the several months of planning that usually goes into such an effort. He said the governor is gathering data to determine whether he can run an effective campaign.
"We're not going to keep people on the edge of their seats. Our bias is to do this quicker, rather than waiting," Carney said, adding that Perry does not want to keep supporters in limbo any longer than he has to. "We're not just looking to launch in a few states and hope for the best. It would be a national effort."
Perry, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, won his first full term as governor in 2002 and spent the next six years embroiled in a series of political challenges, beginning with the toxic effort in 2003 to redraw Texas Congressional districts mid-decade. A fight with teachers over public school funding occurred in 2006.