He insists he’s not running himself, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry is not shy about weighing in on the looming 2012 Republican presidential sweepstakes, telling The Washington Times on Monday that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a fiscal conservative with few ties to the Christian right, already has stumbled, but can’t be ruled out of the race.
Mr. Perry, long considered a top 2012 contender if he runs, told reporters in a separate gathering over breakfast that Mitt Romney, another fiscal conservative, faces his own impediments because of the health care plan he passed as governor of Massachusetts that President Obama has repeatedly cited as a model for his own national health law.
Mr. Perry, who just won re-election to a record third full term as Texas governor, is seen as an increasingly influential voice in the national party and one who could play a key role in determining who gets the 2012 nod.
He said that Mr. Daniels had made a serious mistake earlier this year in picking a fight with Christian conservatives by calling for a party “truce” over whether issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and stem cell research should share the spotlight with jobs and the economy going into this year’s elections.
“I understand where he was coming from,” Mr. Perry said of Mr. Daniels. “I don’t necessarily agree that social issues arent as important today as they were two years ago. I think the American people are focused on economic issues.”
Some observers say the Indiana governor was attempting to set himself apart from the rest of the field of potential candidates, who can be expected to echo the evangelical’s concerns.
Mr. Daniels unprovoked decision to challenge party evangelicals “tends to make me believe he is serious in saying he has no interest in running” for the GOP nomination, Mr. Perry said.
Mr. Perry said religious conservatives are an essential part of any winning GOP electoral coalition, and evangelicals are expected to play a big role in the outcomes of three key primary and caucus states - Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada.
Asked whether he considers himself an evangelical, he said, “Yes. I am an evangelical Christian. Im a born-again Christian and believe in the outreach of the Christian faith to all places around the globe.”
Asked about former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who is on nearly everybody’s list of possible 2012 contenders and whose favored candidates had mixed success on Nov. 2, Mr. Perry said that she “continues to confound the establishment and that is a good thing.”
“Every great marathon runner might misstep at the starting line,” he said. “It in no way affects those still running hard at the finish line.”
Fresh from his re-election win over former Houston Mayor Bill White, Mr. Perry, 60, has joined a string of other possible 2012 GOP presidential nomination candidates in denying he will go for the big prize two years from now.
Coincidentally or not, right after the midterm elections, he began a tour of the country to promote his book, “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington,” which he insists is “about freedom” and not about the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. He once cited the federal government’s increasing infringements on state prerogatives guaranteed in that amendment as a reason for threatening to have Texas secede from the union.
The threat, made mostly in jest, evoked a fierce response among liberals, but warmed the hearts of many Republican and “tea party” conservative constitutionalists whose message of government overreaching played well in the midterm vote.
“I’ve got the best job in the world, and I want to keep it, because it’s the states, not the federal government, that will be making the difference,” Mr. Perry said in trying to back up his pledge that he won’t seek the 2012 nomination.