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.
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.
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."
Perry told The Des Moines Register that he would likely decide in two or three weeks. "But I'm getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I've been called to do. This is what America needs," Perry said.
Should he run, Perry would seek the support of a wing of the party already courted by conservatives in important states such as Iowa. Those would-be rivals include U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a tea party favorite; former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a favorite of anti-abortion activists; and former businessman Herman Cain.
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That could split the vote of the party's conservative base, giving an opening to other Republicans seeking support across the GOP spectrum.
They include front-runner Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has reversed positions on several issues conservatives hold dear; former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, whose moderate positions on some issues make him a nonstarter for conservatives; and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is struggling to break out of the pack.
Unlike some of those candidates, Perry has been consistent on culturally conservative issues.