- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2011

AMES, Iowa — Texas Gov. Rick Perry will announce Saturday that he is running for the Republican presidential nomination in a move expected to fundamentally reshape the race and divert attention from other contenders, many of whom will be competing this weekend in the Iowa Straw Poll.

Now in his 11th year as Texas governor, Mr. Perry could fill the void some party activists see and could unify social and economic conservatives in the GOP.

“This is about electing a true conservative leader with a real record of job creation as our next president,” said Scott Rials, executive director of Make Us Great Again, one of the several pro-Perry political action committees that have formed to raise and spend money independently of his campaign.

“Gov. Rick Perry is our best qualified candidate to win back the White House and get our economy back on track.”

Mr. Perry will make his formal announcement in Charleston, S.C., where he is scheduled to speak at an annual conference of conservative bloggers. He then will travel to New Hampshire and on to Iowa Sunday — hitting three of the first four states to hold nominating contests next year.

“Contrary to written reports that Gov. Perry would use his Charleston speech on Saturday to announce his intention to run, he will tell the influential red state gathering … that he has entered the contest,” Perry campaign strategist David Carney told The Washington Times on Thursday.

In a preview of the Perry campaign’s emphasis, Mr. Carney hailed the three-term governor as someone “known by many as America’s jobs governor.”

Mr. Carney, who was chief strategist for Mr. Perry last year when he defeated Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas’ gubernatorial primary, said the Perry record stands “in perfect contrast to the current occupant of the White House, whose administration has appeared to be flailing around, trying to deal with economic woes for months.”

The move also adds another target for President Obama and the Democratic National Committee, which had invested time in trying to discredit former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who polls show is the front-runner in the field.

Conservatives were pleased with Mr. Perry’s pending announcement.

“I think Gov. Perry entering the race will solidify conservatives,” Dr. Randy Brinson, an Alabama gastroenterologist and founder of Rock the Vote, told The Washington Times. “Romney will hope for a perilous split due to the large number of social conservatives in the race but history shows it will not occur as Romney strategists think.”

“Perry travels to Alabama and the key state of South Carolina to line up solid support over the weekend,” said Dr. Brinson, who is considered a major force in conservative politics in the South. “Obvious strategy is to anchor South Carolina which is the make-or-break state for all Republican presidential contenders.”

Democrats wasted no time in targeting the Texan.

“Not surprising Rick Perry is making his announcement in South Carolina instead of Texas — there’s nowhere in the Lone Star State he could announce without an angry mob showing up,” said Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Gray, who disputed Mr. Perry’s job claims by saying he fought for a budget that would lay off thousands of state workers.

According to the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls, Mr. Romney leads Mr. Perry 20.4 percent to 15.4 percent. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has not announced a candidacy, places third, in a near-tie with Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, an announced candidate who polls fourth.

Mr. Perry will make his entrance about six months before the Iowa caucuses, the traditional kickoff of the nominating season. Iowa is scheduled to be followed by New Hampshire’s primary, Nevada’s caucuses and South Carolina’s primary, though several other states are considering moves to jump ahead in the line.

The rest of the field has been assembled in Iowa for Thursday night’s nationally televised debate, Saturday’s straw poll, the Iowa State Fair, which runs for 11 days and is a traditional hot spot for meeting voters and mugging for cameras.

Mr. Perry did not seek space at the straw poll, though his announcement Saturday could fuel a write-in campaign there.

On Thursday, Mr. Romney was heckled by liberal activists as he delivered a soapbox speech at the fair.

“You ready for my answer? I’m not going to raise taxes. That’s my answer. If you want someone to raise taxes, you can vote for Barack Obama,” Mr. Romney told the hecklers.

Mr. Perry’s entry makes him the first sitting governor in the race. The field has a handful of former governors.

He ascended to his current office from the lieutenant governorship in 2000 after George W. Bush won the White House.

Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report from Des Moines.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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