Scrambling the field of Republican hopefuls vying to replace President Obama, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced his bid for the White House on Saturday, arguing that America could not afford four more years of “rudderless leadership.” If elected, he said, he would strive to replicate Texas’s economic successes in the rest of the nation by cutting spending, lowering taxes and creating a fair regulatory structure.
“I came to South Carolina, because I will not sit back and accept the path that America is on,” Perry told an audience of conservative bloggers in Charleston. “It is time to get America working again; and that’s why, with the support of my family, an unwavering belief in the goodness of America, I declare to you today as a candidate for president of the United States.”
“We do not have to accept our current circumstances. We will change them. We are Americans. That's what we do,” the Texas governor said.
Perry’s announcement in South Carolina--an early primary state where his strong ties to social conservatives are likely to give him an edge--was a preview of the brash style in which he is expected to run his presidential campaign. His speech to the RedState Gathering on Saturday was a blistering indictment of Obama’s policies, and it upstaged the GOP candidates competing in the Ames straw poll. (Perry is not on the straw poll ballot but his supporters have organized a write-in effort).
Though Perry, 61, has never run a national campaign, he enters the race with considerable strengths and as a major threat to frontrunner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. During his announcement Saturday, Perry touched on his roots as the son of tenant farmers who farmed dry land cotton and wheat on the West Texas plains. That upbringing, he said, instilled in him the values of hard work, faith and thrift.
Before even entering the race, Perry had surged up in several national polls. He is a favorite of the “tea party” movement with strong appeal to social conservatives who dominate the early contests in Iowa and South Carolina. But he has also demonstrated broad appeal to Republican primary voters because of Texas’ record of job growth, as well as his fiscal conservatism. While other states have struggled during the recession, Texas’ job market has been a rare bright spot--fueled in part by the oil industry.
Perry touched repeatedly on that record in Texas while blasting Obama’s economic policies. At one point, he charged that the administration’s policy had “prolonged our national misery, not alleviated it.” He promised to work every day to make government “inconsequential” in the lives of Americans.
Obama’s campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt immediately skewered Perry’s economic record in Texas stating that it is “no miracle – it’s a tall tale.”
“Gov. Perry allowed special interests to write their own rules, hired corporate lobbyists to oversee corporations, and cut funding for programs that would create opportunity for middle class families,” LaBolt said in a statement. “In a Republican field that has already pledged allegiance to the Tea Party and failed to present any plan that will benefit the middle class or create the jobs America needs to win the future, Governor Perry offers more of the same.”
Because of Perry’s appeal to “tea party” voters, the Texas governor could immediately stunt the surge in support for Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who reshuffled her travel plans so she could stay in Iowa to go head to head with Perry on Sunday at the Lincoln Day Dinner in her birthplace of Waterloo.
But many political strategists believe the Republican contest could quickly evolve into a two-man race between Perry and Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor, who is not competing in Iowa’s straw poll or holding any public events Saturday, brushed off an invitation from reporters in New Hampshire on Friday evening to critique Perry’s record. But in a preview of the contest ahead, he cited his private sector experience as critical preparation for the White House.
Perry has served in government since the mid-1980s when he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. He served a stint as the state’s agriculture commissioner before he was sworn in as governor in 2000.