Rick Perry of Texas is expected to announce that he will seek his party’s presidential nomination during a conservative conference in South Carolina on Saturday. The governor’s entry has the potential of upsetting the Republican primary race as he might be uniquely qualified to unite social conservatives and Tea Party activists who will play a key role in the nomination process for the first time.
Perry’s decision would come after several months of speculation that the Texan, who is very popular in his home state and among the conservative base, might join the ranks of Republican Party presidential contenders. Polling in early prime states has reflected a lack of enthusiasm among right-wing voters with the current field which former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney still dominates.
Whereas Romney is perceived as a pro-business Republican and a moderate, Perry would be among the most outspoken of socially conservative presidential contenders and appeal to an electorate that has been overshadowed by more libertarian tea partiers since last year’s congressional midterm elections.
As governor, Perry, a Methodist Christian, has sought to defund and increasingly criminalize abortions, signing into law in 2003 a bill that expanded the definition of human life in his state to include fetuses. He staunchly opposes all forms of same-sex marriage and denounced a Supreme Court decision which struck down a Texan sodomy law.
During his 2006 gubernatorial reelection campaign, Perry expressed support for the teaching of intelligence design alongside evolution in Texan schools. He is not convinced that human activity contributes to global warming and opposes regulation of greenhouse gas emissions because it would have “devastating implications” for Texas’ economy.
The governor should be able to perform well in the early primary states of Iowa and South Carolina where Republican voters tend to be more conservative and uncompromisingly pro-life than in the northeast and Midwest of the country. Because he has executive experience, Perry would be perceived as more electable than the likes of Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has failed to garner the sort of exhilaration that Perry attracts although ideologically, they are quite alike.
Perry would also appeal to small-government conservatives in the Tea Party movement who insist that Washington balance its budget without raising taxes. He resisted the levying of an income tax in Texas and was reelected on a platform to reduce property taxes which remain among the highest in the nation. Texans’ state and local tax burden overall is among the lowest in America however.
On closer scrutiny, Tea Party faithful might wonder why Perry, who was a Democrat until he switched parties in the 1980s, was willing to accept several billions in stimulus money before criticizing this very centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s economic policy. Federal dollars account for more than a third of Texas’ spending — one of the highest rates in the nation. Perry lambasted the 2009 legislation for being “full of pork and special interest handouts” and later wrote a book, Fed Up!, in which he argued that the federal government was increasingly encroaching upon individual liberties and states’ rights.
Before Barack Obama was elected, Perry didn’t usually comment on national politics but he has fiercely criticized the president in recent years for his high deficit spending, sweeping health-care reform legislation and what Perry believes is his administration’s failure to adequately protect the border with neighboring Mexico. Texas is struggling to contain drug related crime and human trafficking along the southern frontier which is notoriously porous.
Under Perry’s leadership, the second largest state in the union and its third largest economy boasted solid job growth. During the past two years, the state created more than 260,000 jobs or half of all new jobs added to the American economy since the recession officially ended mid 2009. Texas’ economy is lightly regulated while rising oil prices have contributed to the prosperity of its energy industry.
In November of last year, Perry won reelection to a third term as governor with almost 55 percent of the vote.