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Mr. Perry said attracting business and jobs is “not just about the entrepreneur-friendly regs, but also quality of life.”

There are many ways to judge quality of life, he said.

“There is no question that 10 to 15 years ago folks might have had a point in saying we were culturally and intellectually a backwater — Al Gore once said the air is brown here,” he said. “Well, today, we have won that battle, both in perception and substance. The cultural arts here have exploded. From zoos, to music, to museums, to theater. In Houston, we have more theater seats than any other city in America except New York.”

Mr. Perry’s strong commitment to faith has been a big part of his political career, but he sees the economy as pre-eminent in the lives of Americans, whether religious or secular.

“Americans have to decide what is the most important to them — social issues, foreign policy, national security and other issues, but all those issues — many of them should be the purview of states, not the federal government. You can’t have any of these if you do not take appropriate care of taxes, regulation, legal policies, so that there can be the revenues for those desires.”

Mr. Perry’s presidential nomination run last year flopped when, during a televised debate with Republican rivals, he couldn’t remember the name of the third federal department he promised to shut down if elected president. He has made self-deprecating jokes about the “oops” moment ever since.

That sense of humor is expected to be another strong suit in a second bid for his party’s presidential nomination.