BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday delivered a conservative message to Alabama Republicans on the eve of his expected presidential announcement, stressing the need to defeat President Barack Obama and reduce the size of government to make the country friendlier to job-creating businesses.
Speaking at a fundraising dinner for the Alabama GOP, Perry didn't refer directly to his presidential plans, but he did ask audience members to send him a text message so that he could get their phone numbers in his databank.
Perry called the federal government a "sprawling mess" that needs to be returned to the limited sized envisioned by the nation's founders in the Constitution.
"There is still a whole world of work to be done in Washington, D.C., and we need to send truly fiscal conservatives to Washington to get it done," said Perry, whose address was repeatedly interrupted by applause and cheers.
He said the "arrogance and audacity" of the Obama administration "poses a threat to just about every private sector job out there." He singled out the Environmental Protection Agency as an example of the way government regulation can hurt business and scare off jobs.
Perry will announce his candidacy Saturday in South Carolina. The Alabama GOP sold about 1,500 tickets for the dinner; crowd members ate with piped-in Christian hymns playing over the public address system.
Before his speech, Perry met privately with top Alabama Republicans including Gov. Robert Bentley, statewide elected officials and about 40 state legislators. Outside in the lobby, vendors were setting up a rack of buttons that included several "Perry 2012" designs.
Rep. Mike Jones of Andalusia said Perry could win not just the Republican nomination but the general election, something not all the GOP hopefuls might be capable of doing.
"As a conservative, at the end of the day, you want someone who is viable as a candidate," Jones said. "Until today, I hadn't seen someone I knew could fit that bill."
Sens. Paul Bussman of Cullman and Arthur Orr of Decatur said the Texas governor — who succeeded George W. Bush in that post — could run strongly in the South and Midwest, but might still have a tough road in vote-rich California.
"I think his general demeanor, the way he talks to people, makes people want to talk to him," said Bussman. "I think he will do well with conservatives and moderates."
"He'll be one of the front runners here as soon as he enters the race," Orr said.
Perry's timing was a boon for the Alabama GOP, which scheduled his appearance weeks before his entry into the race became certain. As excitement over a potential Perry bid grew, the party sold about 1,500 tickets for the event, which had to be moved from a smaller location.