CHARLESTON With calls for less federal spending, lower taxes and fewer government regulations, Texas Gov. Rick Perry jumped into the Republican race for president Saturday, announcing his run during a gathering in Charleston.
“It is time to get America working again. That’s why, with the support of my family, and an unwavering belief in the goodness of America, I declare to you today my candidacy for president of the United States,” Perry said to a cheering crowd of about 500 at an event organized by RedState, a conservative political blog.
The speech, centered on the nation’s struggling economy and high unemployment rate, included Perry’s claims of generating thousands of Texas jobs and frequent jabs at Democratic President Barack Obama.Said Perry: “The fact is, for nearly three years, President Obama has been downgrading American jobs, he’s been downgrading our standing in the world, he’s been downgrading our financial stability, he’s been downgrading our confidence and downgrading the hope for a better future for our children.”
That generated a quick response from Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, who called Perry’s job-creation claims a “tall tale” and Perry himself a “carbon copy” of Washington Republicans whose policies hurt the middle class.
Perry’s entrance is anticipated to immediately shake up the 2012 GOP race and, some polls suggest, could place him as an early front-runner, within striking distance of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, considered the current leader of the pack.
“There’s a lot of expectation about Perry,” said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University pollster and political scientist. “There’s a belief that if there’s a candidate who can appeal to everyone in the modern conservative movement, it’s thought to be Rick Perry.”
Many of those groups were represented at Saturday’s event — Tea Party members, social conservatives and business owners — all of whom say the struggling economy is their top issue. Perry’s claims of growing jobs in his home state is his lure, they say.
During his speech, Perry said that, in the past two years, 40 percent of the net new jobs created in the United States were created in Texas.
“We are in such terrible financial shape in this country,” said Gerri McDaniel of the Myrtle Beach Tea Party, which is planning to endorse a candidate, then go to work on the grass-roots level. “We’ve got to have someone to bring jobs back to this country.”
Perry is expected to do particularly well with the state’s social conservatives. Recent polls show that nearly half of all likely Republican voters in South Carolina identify themselves as evangelical Christians.Politicos agree that a top priority for Perry nationally must be to take advantage of his crossover appeal among Republican groups, exciting them and living up to the high expectations his expected candidacy has created in recent weeks.
“Today, the news was he announced. What’s he going to do tomorrow? He’s got to live up to that expectation that his entrance is going to have an impact,” said Shell Suber, a Republican political consultant in South Carolina, where the nation’s first-in-the-South primary will be held in February. Since 1980, the state’s Republican voters have accurately picked the eventual presidential nominee.
It remains to be seen if voter enthusiasm will offset early speculation that Perry, 61, may be pigeonholed as the “Southern candidate” with limited national appeal.
And questions linger whether the nation is ready for another Texas-governor-turned-president after President George W. Bush’s two terms.
“It really hit me today listening to him,” Suber said. “You can close your eyes and hear George Bush because they have the same accent. They’re from the same part of the country. I anticipate that refrain, on whether we’re ready for another Texas governor, will be brought up by the media and political analysts. People around their kitchen tables will be talking about it.”
Perry likely will need to give additional explanations to a national audience about his first six years in politics, spent as a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives, to talk in 2009 of the state’s right to secede from the Union and to a 2007 executive order he signed that required Texas girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer.
Nancy Johnson, an evangelical Christian who lives on Daniel Island in South Carolina and attended Saturday’s event, said the HPV-vaccination decision was a bad one. But she would take it as one of hundreds he has had to make as governor for the past 11 years — as the state’s longest-serving governor.
“He represents everything we believe in, Christ and the Bible,” said Johnson, whose two favorites are Perry and Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. “I wouldn’t make a decision about him based on that one decision.”
Further criticism could come if Perry is perceived as a career politician. In addition to serving as governor, Perry previously served as a Texas House member and its agriculture commissioner.
“He’s been in public service, sucking the government teat, as a Tea Party purist would say, for most of his adult life,” Huffmon said. “That gives someone like Romney, who can talk about running a business and making profits, ammunition.”
Perry’s announcement came just a few hours before the release of results of the straw poll in Ames, Iowa, where his presidential GOP rivals were vying for votes. Iowa is home to the nation’s earliest GOP contest.
Suber said Perry’s decision to skip the straw poll, primarily a popularity contest more than an accurate measure of the eventual nominee pick, was a smart one. “He gets half the newspaper (coverage) tomorrow,” Suber said. “All the other candidates in Iowa get the other half.”