AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the longest serving chief executive in the state's history and a politician who has never lost an election, said Friday he will consider seeking the Republican nomination for president.
The outspoken conservative, who for months said he wasn't interested in running for the White House, said he will consider entering the race after the Texas Legislature adjourns Monday.
"I'm going to think about it," Perry said. "I think about a lot of things."
It was a stark reversal from his previous insistence that he would not seek the presidency, and one that could shake-up the GOP race. Perry would enter with unquestioned conservative bona fides and a proven fundraising record, adding a fresh voice to field narrowed by the decisions of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels not to run.
Perry has been the center of a presidential buzz during the past week, kicked up as many Republicans lamented the remaining slate of candidates vying for the opportunity to challenge President Barack Obama. The talk increased last week after his speech to Republican insiders in Dallas won rave reviews. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh spent 20 minutes on his talk show a few days later espousing Perry's appeal as a candidate.
When asked about the race before Friday, Perry had said repeatedly he was focused on the state's legislative session and not the 2012 race. He reiterated Friday that his focus is on Texas, but answered with a swift "yes sir" when asked if he would consider running for president once the session was over.
"There is a huge opening (in) the Republican presidential primary for someone with strong credentials with the tea party and social conservatives," said Mark McKinnon, a longtime political consultant and former George W. Bush political adviser. "Rick Perry has great credentials with both, he's the longest serving governor in Texas history and is about to finish what conservatives will view as a very successful legislative session because he balanced the budget through spending cuts.
"The only real question is: Why wouldn't he run?"
So far, operatives in Perry's circle are not laying the groundwork and he has yet to make the required trips to the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. And later Friday, Perry spokesman Mark Miner tried to downplay the comments.
"Of course he thinks about it, it's natural to think about it," Miner said. "But that doesn't change the fact that he has no intention of running."
When asked by The Associated Press if Perry himself would be willing to say he has "no intention" of running, Miner refused to make him available and declined to say why the governor couldn't personally address the issue.
Perry has been a darling of the tea party and could ignite a groundswell of support among the libertarian-leaning, anti-tax movement. He was an early endorser of the groups that helped Republicans take control of the U.S. House, statehouses and governors' offices in 2010.
The loosely organized tea party movement hasn't yet gelled around a candidate, despite efforts from declared candidates Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich to win them over.
"The candidates that are running are not the candidates that people want," said Ryan Hecker, organizer of the Contract From America and member of the Houston Tea Party Society. "They're looking for someone, almost wistfully."
Perry, Hecker said, "would be an excellent addition to the field."
In recent years, Perry has made a sport out of bashing Washington. Most often, he attacks the federal government for failing to secure the U.S. border with Mexico. In November, he published a book, "Fed Up!", which describes the federal government as financially reckless and out of control while calling for a resurgence of state-based power.
Should he decide to run, Perry would presumably come to the table without at least one of the top advisers who helped him win re-election last year by 13 points. His campaign manager from that bid, Rob Johnson, is with Gingrich. Political adviser Dave Carney, a former aide to President Ronald Reagan, also is with Gingrich — although he still serves as Perry's senior political strategist.