CHARLESTON, S.C.-Texas Gov. Rick Perry officially declared his presidential candidacy Saturday, telling a crowd in this key primary state that he will run for the nomination to challenge President Obama in 2012.
In front of a crowd of 500 at the Francis Marion Hotel, Perry used his first speech as a candidate to brag about job creation in Texas under his leadership and argue he could dramatically improve the American economy if elected president.
“I do not accept the path that America is on…Because a renewed nation needs a renewed president. It is time to get America working again,” Perry told the cheering crowd, declaring that it was “time to give a pink slip to the current White House.”
“I declare to you today as a candidate for president of the United States of America,” the governor said.
Perry’s speech, coming on the same day Republicans in Ames, Iowa will cast the first votes of the GOP nomination contest, is the start of a campaign launch that includes a stop in New Hampshire later Saturday and then Perry Officially Enters 2012 Presidential Raceseveral days of events in the Hawkeye State starting Sunday.
“In reality, though this is the just most recent downgrade,” Perry said, referring to the recent downgrading of the U.S. credit rating. “The fact is for nearly three years, President Obama has been downgrading American jobs, he's been downgrading our standing in the world, he's been downgrading our financial stability, he's been downgrading confidence and downgrading the hope of a better future for our children.”
The announcement event was unusual, as Perry opted against the traditional approach of declaring a presidential candidacy in the city in which you live or were raised. Instead, the Texas governor spoke to an audience of party activists from across the country who came here for RedState’s annual event.
Originally, only 300 people were expected to attend the conference, but a crowd of double squeezed into a ballroom here to watch Perry campaign launch.
Perry introduced his wife and spoke briefly about his childhood in Paint Creek Texas, a town so small he joked that it doesn’t have a zip code. He also highlighted his service as an Air Force pilot.
But the speech was largely an aggressive attack on Obama and a pledge to take the anti-tax, anti-regulation policies Perry has implemented in Texas and bring them to the rest of the nation.
Perry’s late entrance into the 2012 race thrusts into an already-crowded Republican field a candidate with the potential to win the GOP primary, even though some of his rivals have a substantial headstart. While Perry was not drafted, conservative activists lobbied for his candidacy in part because of dissatisfaction with the current field.
His candidacy could solidify the Republican field, which has been unsettled for months as a series of figures from Donald Trump to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels have flirted but ultimately opted against running. 2008 GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin says she is still considering a candidacy, but has made little effort to build the kind of operation that would be required to run.
The governor’s speech had a sharp, anti-Washington tone. He cast the Obama administration as “central planners” bent on controlling every aspect of American life and promising to work “every day to make Washington, D.C., inconsequential in your life as I possibly can.”
“Washington is not our caretaker,” Perry declared, adding, “In America, the people are not subjects of the government, the government is subject to the people.”
Like other GOP candidates, Perry attacked Obama for increasing the deficit, proposing to raise taxes on upper-income Americans and pushing through health care legislation that Perry promised to repeal.
"We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership," he said.
The governor of the nation’s second largest state for 11 years, Perry enters the campaign with a host of advantages: a strong fundraising base, popularity with both tea party and religious conservatives and job growth in Texas under his leadership even as the national economy continues to struggle.
Perry, 61, has spent weeks preparing for a campaign and already has some critical elements in place. He has courted key party donors and will hold a series of fundraisers over the next month. In support of his candidacy, a group of his former aides has started a “super-PAC,” a political committee that can raise unlimited sums.
And Perry has already started making calls and courting key activists in the early primary states, as well as holding a huge prayer rally in Houston last week.
By announcing Saturday, the same day Iowa Republicans are gathered in Ames for the much-anticipated straw poll there, Perry has annoyed some in the Hawkeye State who say he is stealing their day. But by making his move Saturday, Perry will deny whoever wins in Ames some of the media attention that could come with a victory .
Perry’s candidacy is in some ways a surprise. For years, he has spoken proudly of his disdain for Washington and in an interview last November with the Associated Press, said “I am not interested in going to Washington, D.C., as president, vice president or in anybody’s Cabinet.”
But the early months of campaigning have demonstrate less enthusiasm among for the current crop of 2012 GOP contenders. On one hand, candidates such as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney have failed to galvanize the grassroots of the party, while other contenders, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) are popular with activists but not as much with party elites who worry she cannot win the general election.
Some in the party argue Perry, who was an early supporter of the tea party movement but is also liked by more establishment Republicans, could be a candidate who appeals to both groups. His views on most issues, from calling for the repeal of President Obama’s health care law to opposing gay marriage, mirror the other Republican hopefuls.