- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2011

In another sign of Rick Perry’s imminent entry into the Republican presidential nomination race, the Texas governor will host a gathering of D.C.-based small-business association executives in Austin later this month, The Washington Times has learned.

Despite not having formally announced his candidacy, polls say the three-term Texas governor is already challenging former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for front-runner status in the GOP race, generating more enthusiasm among conservative primary voters than any of the declared contenders with the exception of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

In the latest Rasmussen poll, Mr. Perry, with 18 percent, runs second nationally behind Mr. Romney, with 22 percent.

Mr. Perry, who initially said he would not run for president, has been increasingly open about his intentions to do just that, especially as the declared candidates have thus far failed to excite conservative activists and party loyalists alike.

On Sunday, Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, wrote to executives of several small-business associations, inviting them to a luncheon with Mr. Perry on Aug. 11.

“I have been assisting Gov. Rick Perry to meet with influential players in the D.C. community in anticipation of his deciding to run for the White House,” Mr. Van Dongen wrote in a July 31 letter, a copy of which The Times obtained from sources in Washington.

Gov. Perry has established a strong record in support of small business and entrepreneurs during his 10 years as the chief executive of Texas,” Mr. Van Dongen wrote. “He is most interested in learning about the concerns and key issues of the small-business community as they apply at the federal level.”

Mr. Dongen indicated the initiative for the meeting came from Mr. Perry.

“I have been asked to help gather a small group of key small-business association execs for a policy luncheon with Gov. Perry on Thursday, Aug. 11,” he wrote.

 Mr. Van Dongen said in a phone interview that he had been invited to Austin to visit with Mr. Perry and the idea came up of inviting representatives of America’s small-business interest groups.

Gov. Perry and his senior advisers said they would like to hear the views and concerns of the small-business community,” Mr. Van Dongen said.

He said he sent the invitation to the heads of associations including the National Federation of Independent Business as well as trade groups representing contractors and builders.

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