- Associated Press - Sunday, July 17, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — Should Rick Perry conclude that voter discontent has left an opening for him to enter the presidential race, the longtime Texas governor would be among the GOP field’s most conservative candidates.

Primary voters would get a skilled politician with TV anchorman looks, a Southern preacher’s oratory and a cowboy’s swagger, matched by a disarming candor and sense of humor. The former cotton farmer from the village of Paint Creek in West Texas has never lost an election in nearly three decades as a politician.

What they wouldn’t get is a candidate whose politics are positioned to unite a Republican electorate that stretches from moderate pro-business fiscal conservatives to evangelical social conservatives, with the tea party falling somewhere along the spectrum.

“Texans, God love them, have that bigger-than-life persona about politics and that doesn’t necessarily play everywhere,” said Christopher Nicholas, a Republican political consultant who has worked extensively in the Northeast and Midwest. “I haven’t heard a lot of Republicans call Social Security a disease.”

Mr. Perry has. He branded Social Security and other New Deal programs “the second big step in the march of socialism,” according to a book published last year. The “first step” was a national income tax, which he has said stands alongside the direct election of U.S. senators as a major mistake among the amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Mr. Perry has said he likely will decide in two or three weeks whether he’ll run for president.

Mr. Perry told the Des Moines Register that he’s “getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do. This is what America needs.”

In the just-completed Texas legislative session, Mr. Perry’s “emergency items” included laws that require a photo ID in order to vote, a sonogram before a woman has an abortion and enforcement of federal immigration laws by local police.

He rejects the idea of climate change and the theory of evolution, arguing for natural climate variations and intelligent design of the universe.

In fact, he said last year when promoting his book, “Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America From Washington,” which was a state’s rights treatise that railed against the federal government, that he’s too conservative to run for national office.

“The best concrete evidence that I’m really not running for president is this book, because when you read this book, you’re going to see me talking about issues that for someone running for public office, it’s kind of been the third rail if you will,” Mr. Perry told the Associated Press shortly after winning re-election in 2010.

In the few polls that have included Mr. Perry, he ranks high among Republican primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Gov. Terry Branstad, Iowa Republican, told the AP on Saturday that he thinks it’s very likely that Mr. Perry will jump into the race and reshape the state’s caucuses.

“I get the definite impression he’s very likely to run,” Mr. Branstad said, basing his opinion on a conversation the governors had Friday.

“I think he becomes a significant factor if he becomes a candidate,” Mr. Branstad said. “It could change the whole complexion of the Iowa caucus race.”

Should he run, Mr. Perry would seek the support of a wing of the party already courted by conservatives in important states such as Iowa. Those would-be rivals include Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a tea party favorite; former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a favorite of anti-abortion activists; and former businessman Herman Cain.

That could split the vote of the party’s conservative base, giving an opening to other Republicans seeking support across the GOP spectrum.

They include front-runner Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has reversed positions on several issues that conservatives hold dear; former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., whose moderate positions on some issues make him a nonstarter for conservatives; and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is struggling to break out of the pack.

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