AUSTIN, Texas — Should Rick Perry conclude that voter discontent has left him an opening to enter the presidential race, the longtime Texas governor would be among the GOP field's most conservative candidates.
Primary voters would get a skilled politician with TV anchorman looks, a Southern preacher's oratory and a cowboy's swagger, matched by a disarming candor and sense of humor. The former cotton farmer from the village of Paint Creek in West Texas has never lost an election in nearly three decades as a politician.
What they wouldn't get is a candidate whose politics are positioned to unite a Republican electorate that stretches from moderate pro-business fiscal conservatives to evangelical social conservatives, with the tea party falling somewhere along the spectrum.
"Texans, God love them, have that bigger-than-life persona about politics and that doesn't necessarily play everywhere," said Christopher Nicholas, a Republican political consultant who has worked extensively in the Northeast and Midwest. "I haven't heard a lot of Republicans call Social Security a disease."
Perry has. He branded Social Security and other New Deal programs "the second big step in the march of socialism," according to a book published last year. The "first step" was a national income tax, which he has said stands alongside the direct election of U.S. senators as a major mistake among the amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
In the just-completed Texas legislative session, Perry's "emergency items" included laws that require a photo ID in order to vote, a sonogram before a woman had an abortion and enforcement of federal immigration laws by local police.
He rejects the idea of global warming and the theory of evolution, arguing for natural climate variations and intelligent design of the universe.
In fact, he said last year when promoting his book, "Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America From Washington," which was a state's rights treatise that railed against the federal government, that he's too conservative to run for national office.
"The best concrete evidence that I'm really not running for president is this book, because when you read this book, you're going to see me talking about issues that for someone running for public office, it's kind of been the third rail if you will," Perry told The Associated Press shortly after winning re-election in 2010.
Perry doesn't shy away from his deep conservatism. He embraces it with the same vigor with which he dismisses those who found his shooting of a coyote while the governor was jogging or spending tens of thousands of campaign dollars on a luxury rental home unbecoming a state chief executive.
Working with the fundamentalist American Family Association, Perry urged people to participate in a day of prayer and fasting on Aug. 6, following the example of the Bible's book of Joel. Courting evangelical Christians always has been one of his core campaign strategies.
"When it comes to conservative social issues, it saddens me when sometimes my fellow Republicans duck and cover in the face of pressure from the left," Perry told the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans this year. "Our party cannot be all things to all people."
In the few polls that have included Perry, he ranks high among Republican primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa, told The Associated Press on Saturday he thinks it's very likely that Perry will jump into the race and reshape the state's caucuses.
"I get the definite impression he's very likely to run," Branstad said, basing his opinion on a conversation the governors had Friday. "I think he becomes a significant factor if he becomes a candidate," Branstad said. "It could change the whole complexion of the Iowa caucus race."
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