The Washington Post

Texas’s Rick Perry weighing a 2012 candidacy

Texas Governor Rick Perry at the Conservative Political Action conference Feb. 11 in Washington. (JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has disavowed for months any interest in running for president in 2012, is now actively considering whether to enter the race, according to people familiar with his thinking.

Perry has made no overt moves toward a candidacy, as he deals with legislative business in a special session of the Texas legislature. But his posture has shifted because of dissatisfaction expressed by many Republicans with their current choices for the GOP nomination and because of encouragement he is receiving from around the country.

One friend said Perry is “warming to the idea” of running and is now going through the process of deciding what it would take to launch a candidacy and whether he has the desire to endure a grueling campaign.

Two Texas sources said they believe that Perry would have the backing of his wife Anita, should he decide to run. Unlike Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), whose family’s opposition led him to back away from a candidacy last month, Perry apparently faces no such family dissension.

Perry is the longest-serving governor in Texas history. He assumed the job when then-governor George W. Bush won the 2000 election and has been reelected to three full terms since then. Perry’s reelection last fall, against former Houston mayor Bill White, continued his unbroken string of election victories as a politician. The general election victory came after he easily defeated Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the GOP primary.

Perry has been a virtual crusader against what he calls an increasingly intrusive federal government and a defender of the states to run their own affairs. That small government, anti-Washington message made him popular with tea-party activists and many GOP strategists see Perry as well positioned to appeal to those voters, whose energy helped fuel the 2010 GOP victories but who so far have not coalesced around a presidential candidate.

But friends of Perry say he does not see his appeal as limited to a segment of the party, nor would he attempt to run as the tea-party candidate. Instead he sees himself as a conservative with broad appeal across the entire Republican Party and as someone who could excite party activists in ways that the leading candidates have not yet done.

In the past, Perry has said emphatically that he had no desire to come to Washington and that he would not be a candidate in 2012. He said he had every intention of finishing out his third term as governor. But in the past few weeks, and especially after Daniels declined to run, the pressure has increased on him to consider entering the race.

Perry told reporters recently that when the Texas special session concludes, he would think about it. Top advisers immediately issued statements that, regardless of what the governor had said, Perry had no intention of running and that nothing had changed. “It’s all taken a different tone in the last two weeks with just that one comment,” said one adviser.

A Perry friend said the governor has been surprised at how much pressure from outside the state has arrived encouraging him to run, something he had not anticipated, and that too has prompted him to begin a discussion with family and close friends.

Perry has a broad Texas fundraising network and beyond the state’s borders. He has raised prodigious amounts of money for his past three gubernatorial campaigns, but under rules that allow the kind of large contributions that are prohibited in federal elections. Nonetheless, Perry advisers believe he would have little trouble raising enough money to run a credible campaign.

One potential hitch in any Perry planning is the fact that his long-time chief political adviser, David Carney, is now helping former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in his presidential campaign. In addition, Rob Johnson, who managed Perry’s reelection campaign last year, is now Gingrich’s campaign manager.

But one person close to Perry said he could not imagine Carney not being at Perry’s side if the governor runs. Conversely, this person said he could not imagine Perry deciding to run if he were not certain Carney would be part of his team. As another person close to Perry said, “I don’t want to do this without Carney.”

At this point, Perry has not given the green light to his adviser to begin making plans. Instead, the conversations are more closely held as the governor thinks through the impact on his family and his own political career. “I think he is just trying to weigh how much personal sacrifice is it going to take,” said one friend.

Perry is scheduled to speak next Tuesday at a Lincoln Day dinner in Manhattan and later in the week will appear at a GOP gathering in New Orleans where many of the current and prospective candidates will appear. Both events are likely to stoke further speculation about Perry’s plans.

Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He has served as the paper’s National Editor, Political Editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent.

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