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Perry Mixes Discipline, Savvy Skill

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks with attendees at the Lincoln Day Dinner hosted by the Black Hawk County Republican Party in Waterloo, Iowa, on Sunday.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to run a disciplined, anti-Washington presidential campaign modeled on his successful takedown of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Perry's March 2010 victory, initially unexpected, harnessed tea party energy and conservative angst with the federal government offering an early glimpse of what was to come in November of that year. But interviews with Texas Republicans familiar with Perry's career and an examination of old campaign ads reveal a politician with considerably more range than recent history suggests and one who is capable of reinvention when necessary.

"There are many attributes about Rick Perry that everyone seems to continually underestimate," said Luis Saenz, campaign manager for the governor's 2006 re-election and his deputy campaign manager in 2002. "His media team will run a message until it burns in. You will see discipline in all aspects of the campaign."

Perry was scheduled to formally announce for president on Saturday in South Carolina, followed by weekend campaign stops in New Hampshire and Iowa. Perry spokesman Mark Miner told Roll Call that the Republican's main focus as a candidate would be to "get America working again," while reducing the country's tax burden and debt load.

Even critics who believe Perry has been the recipient of an inordinate amount of luck acknowledge the governor's keen political acumen, likability and retail politics skills, a major strength in the early presidential primary states. Through Perry's several campaigns, particularly his gubernatorial bids in 2002, 2006 and 2010, he has demonstrated an ability to find a campaign message that works, and the discipline to stick to it without being distracted.

In Perry's quest for the Republican presidential nomination, that message will be lean and simple, focusing on a few broad, conservative themes that appeal to GOP primary voters: The economy is broken, Washington, D.C., is making things worse, he's the outsider who can fix it and create jobs. In Perry's 2010 re-election bid, he used Hutchison as a prop for Washington and ran almost exclusively against D.C. as the main threat to Texas' relatively sound economy.

A Republican operative based in Texas and supporting Perry said the governor's race against Hutchison gives a strong sense of what Perry will talk about nationally. The operative said that even though jobs weren't a focus in the gubernatorial battle, "Obviously that will be No. 1."

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