- The Washington Times - Friday, July 29, 2011

DENVER Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged conservatives Friday to “push more liberals into the private sector” in the 2012 election — including the president — but the oft-mentioned potential presidential candidate declined to say whether he had decided to enter the race himself.

Speaking to a packed house at the Western Conservative Summit, Mr. Perry continued to leave his supporters guessing as to his political future, although he did refer repeatedly to the importance of the 2012 election. At one point, he suggested that President Obama should be defeated so that he could take up a career on the Sunday morning talk shows.

“The mixture of arrogance and audacity that guides the Obama administration is an affront to every freedom-loving American and a threat to every job in the private sector,” said Mr. Perry.

The 11-year Texas governor further fueled speculation when he asked a member of the audience to take out their cell phones and text the word “forward” to 95613. “You’re sending it to me,” he explained, prompting speculation that he could be building a campaign mailing list.

Mr. Perry’s appearance in Colorado is significant for several reasons. Colorado is expected to emerge as a swing state that could serve as a harbinger of the election’s outcome. Republican strategist Karl Rove told a Denver audience in June that “as goes Colorado, so goes the nation.”

Summit organizers have also placed Mr. Perry on a straw poll ballot of announced and unannounced candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. The results are slated to be released Sunday [July 31].

Other Republican presidential hopefuls appearing at the summit include former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who spoke Friday evening immediately before Mr. Perry, and businessman Herman Cain, who is scheduled to deliver his remarks Sunday.

Mr. Santorum said he was spending three weeks in Iowa prior to the Ames straw poll Aug. 13, and that he hoped the results would “show the pundits” that he’s a legitimate threat for the nomination.

“I’m committed to this. I believe this is the most important election since the election of 1860,” said Mr. Santorum, referring to the presidential race immediately preceding the Civil War.

Event organizer John Andrews, director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, introduced a surprise guest whom he described as “America’s most famous non-candidate.” Moments later, there were gasps from the sold-out dinner crowd of about 1,000 when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin appeared to take the podium.

It turns out it wasn’t Mrs. Palin, but a uncanny lookalike named Cecilia Thompson, a graduate of Colorado Christian University. Mr. Andrews said the resemblance was so striking that even Mrs. Palin had remarked that, “‘Wow, I feel like I’m looking in a mirror.’”

While his plans for 2012 remain a mystery, Mr. Perry left little doubt as to where he stands on the debt-ceiling debate.

“They spend their time arguing about the debt ceiling instead of making cuts,” said Mr. Perry. “I for one think it should be called the ‘escalator ceiling’ because it keeps going up.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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