- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2011

DALLAS — He’s not on the ballot for 2012, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry strongly impressed a gathering of top Republican officials here Tuesday, with many high-ranking GOP officials saying the governor would be their top choice if he entered the presidential race.

“I would love to see a movement to draft Rick for the nomination if that’s the only way we can get him to run,” said Republican National Committee general counsel Bill Crocker after Mr. Perry delivered a luncheon address that had several hundred party officials attentive throughout.

“The comments I got after his speech made it clear I am not alone,” Mr. Crocker said at the meeting of GOP state chairmen and other RNC members.

Interviews with more than two dozen people after Mr. Perry spoke produced a highly unusual degree of consensus about the third-term governor’s potential prospects as a candidate.

The party officials had been meeting here since Sunday, all the while bemoaning the chances of the current field of Republican candidates to raise the pulses of voters and mount a formidable challenge to President Obama.

Mr. Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, has said repeatedly that he has the “best job in the world” and will not run for president next year. But some of the highest ranking officials in the national GOP said that after his speech Tuesday, pressure will only grow to organize an effort to draft him into the race.

Former California GOP Chairman Shawn Steel, now an elected national committeeman, called Mr. Perry “the most dynamic and tested candidate from America’s most successful state with a Reagan-view vision. Yet he is holding back from running for president. Why?”

Mr. Perry again put aside his prepared speech here Tuesday, took the microphone and, striding back and fourth at the front of the Westin Park Central Hotel ballroom, drew laughs, applause and cheers with an off-the-cuff address as he told the party chairmen that it is their job to raise the money and get out the vote on Election Day to beat Mr. Obama.

He also sounded a favorite conservative theme, speaking extensively on the 10th Amendment and the limitations it places on the powers of the federal government over the states.

As the elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he pledged to have the RGA work closely with the RNC during the 2012 campaign.

“As of today, I love Gov. Perry for the nomination,” said Alaska RNC member Debbie Joslin, “In my state, the coyote story alone would win him the nomination.”

Mr. Perry recounted in his address about jogging with his Labrador retriever and meeting a coyote on his path, whereupon the governor, a stolid Second Amendment supporter, pulled out his concealed weapon and shot the coyote.

“He’s the one,” said a Southern state party chairman who asked later that his name be withheld because he is required to be neutral in the GOP presidential nomination contest. “We have to find a way to draft him.”

The groundswell of support was unusual, given that state chairmen and other national committee members are supposed to keep their preferences private until a presidential nominee is chosen.

After an impressive comeback in the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans are unsure of their chances next year, despite the relative unpopularity of Mr. Obama. The GOP’s top potential contenders have political baggage and liabilities that come up over and over in discussions here.

“I don’t think there are any of us [women] in this ballroom who would vote for Gingrich,” said an RNC member from a Northern state, referring to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s history of extra-marital affairs and his one-time endorsement of compulsory health insurance.

There was only modest hope here regarding former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the early leader in GOP voter polls.

Though many admire his business and managerial acumen, they fear Mr. Romney, too, will have a hard time with voters given the universal health care plan he signed in Massachusetts - one many Republicans say mirrors Mr. Obama’s health law.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ unusual history with his wife - who left him with their children while she lived with another man before resuming their marriage - is another question mark.

Mr. Perry so far has no similar personal or policy baggage, though he did at one time face criticism from some social conservatives over a mandatory school inoculation program.

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

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