Perry Kicks Off Presidential Run Against ‘Rudderless’ Leadership

Rick Perry, the longest-serving U.S. governor and an early Tea Party supporter, stepped into the Republican presidential campaign touting the economic buoyancy of Texas and his plans to reduce federal authority.

Perry, 61, who considered a run for months, made it official in Charleston, South Carolina, at a meeting sponsored by, a self-described “conservative news blog.” He later flew to New Hampshire, site of the first 2012 primary election. He plans to campaign today in New Hampshire and Iowa.

“We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership,” Perry said to about 500 people in a hotel ballroom. “Washington’s insatiable desire to spend our children’s inheritance on failed stimulus plans has given us record debts.”

Perry will need to surpass Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and investor who has led most surveys of likely Republican voters. Romney touted his experience creating jobs during an Aug. 11 debate in Iowa. Since Perry took charge in December 2000 through May of this year, nonfarm payroll employment in Texas climbed by almost 1.02 million, according to U.S. Labor Department data.

Enthusiasm for Perry’s campaign in southern states is overtaking Romney and other candidates, said Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina Republican Party chairman who has organized support for Perry in recent weeks. Perry’s leadership at an Aug. 6 prayer rally in Houston impressed many southern Republicans, he said.

“Romney spent more than $10 million in South Carolina four years ago and couldn’t scratch,” Dawson said, citing Romney’s fourth-place finish. “There’s something about his message that doesn’t resonate in South Carolina.”

First Southern Primary

South Carolina holds the first southern primary of 2012. No Republican has captured the presidential nomination without a victory in the primary there since Ronald Reagan in 1980, according to David Woodard, a former consultant to Jim DeMint, the state’s junior senator.

Perry’s skill at raising money in Texas shows he could attract funding to run against President Obama in a general election, Dawson said.

Dawson, a Republican National Committee member, estimated that the Republican nominee will need $750 million to run a campaign against Obama, who raised that much in 2008. Dawson said The governor’s campaign committee has received more than $200 million in donations since 2001, according to Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based research group that studies campaign finance issues.

“If you check his record, the more he was attacked in Texas, the more Texans showed up to support Rick Perry,” Dawson said.

Downgrading Washington

Perry blamed President Barack Obama’s “tax, spend and borrow agenda” for causing Standard & Poor’s Corp.’s decision to cut the U.S. credit rating.

“For nearly three years President Obama has been downgrading American jobs, downgrading our standing in the world, downgrading our financial stability, downgrading confidence and downgrading the hope of a better future for our children,” Perry said. “I will work every day to make Washington D.C. as inconsequential in your lives as I can.”

Perry described the president’s foreign policy as an “incoherent muddle.” The U.S. has “insulted our friends and encouraged our enemies,” he said.

The Obama campaign responded to Perry’s announcement with an e-mailed statement criticizing the Texas governor’s economic policies as “a carbon copy of the economic policies of Washington Republicans.”

Tall Tale

“Middle-class families know his economic record is no miracle -- it’s a tall tale,” the Obama campaign e-mail said. “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.”

Employment growth in Texas hasn’t created enough well-paid positions or improved access to health care, said Scott McCown, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a nonprofit group in Austin that advocates for low-income Texans.

“We have the highest percentage of low-wage jobs and we are first in the number of uninsured,” McCown said by telephone yesterday. “And because of Texas’s regressive tax system, low-wage earners here pay the fifth-highest wage taxes in the country.”

Air Force Pilot

Perry, a former U.S. Air Force pilot and West Texas farmer and rancher, began his political career as a Democrat in the state Legislature in 1984. He has never lost an election.

Helped by political consultant Karl Rove, Perry won his first statewide race in 1990, for agriculture commissioner, after switching to the Republican Party in 1989. Elected lieutenant governor in 1998, he took over the top spot in December 2000 after George W. Bush, another Rove client, resigned the office ahead of his swearing in as U.S. president.

Perry said on July 19 his deliberations were prompted by his wife, Anita. They met at an elementary school piano recital. Married since 1982, they have two adult children.

Romney, 64, is a co-founder of Boston-based Bain Capital LLC, a private-equity firm with about $65 billion in assets that has invested in companies including Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Bright Horizons Family Solutions LLC.

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