- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2013

Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday that he will not seek a fourth term, fueling speculation of another White House run for the nation’s longest-serving chief executive and opening the door for a new leader of the biggest GOP-leaning state.

The move comes at a time when Texas has become a leader in pushing the envelope for conservative causes, including a bill to ban most abortions after a pregnancy reaches 20 weeks.

Speaking in San Antonio, Mr. Perry said he plans to spend the final 18 months of his term fighting for the same conservative policies that he said have produced more than 1 million new jobs on his watch, and have made Texas an economic model. But Mr. Perry was coy about his future plans, and would not rule out running for president again.

“I remain excited about the future and the challenges ahead, but the time has come to pass on the mantle of leadership,” Mr. Perry said.

The announcement marks a turning point in Texas politics, where Mr. Perry has served as governor since taking over the post in 2000 after then-Gov. George W. Bush was elected president.

Texas has long been a conservative stronghold. It lacks a state income tax, bars same-sex marriage and is home to a strong gun-rights culture.

The electorate showed its conservative streak in the 2012 Senate race, where tea party darling Ted Cruz trounced GOP establishment favorite Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on his way to winning the Republican nomination and eventually the open Senate seat.

This week, the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature is pushing for a statewide ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Meanwhile, Attorney General Gregg Abbot has welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, saying the controversial Texas voter ID law and redistricting maps that were passed and signed by the governor could go into effect.

Taken together, the events have made Texas a lightning rod for national debates over emotional issues. It also has sent a strong signal to potential officeholders that they have to toe the conservative line to win.

“The voters in Texas are conservative, and I think anybody who wants to be successful has to be conservative, not just in word, but in deed — people who don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk,” said David Carney, a GOP consultant who served as chief strategist for Mr. Perry’s 2012 campaign.

Polls showed that Mr. Perry could have had a competitive primary if he sought re-election — particularly if Mr. Abbot, a fellow Republican, decided to challenge him.

Mr. Perry will have some work to do nationally if he is to overcome his poor showing in the 2012 GOP primaries — which he entered with high expectations.

But he wilted under a barrage of criticism over his support for in-state college tuition rates for some illegal immigrants and for his infamous “oops” moment in a debate where he could not remember the third federal agency he wanted to eliminate.

Following disappointing showings in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, Mr. Perry dropped out of the race and endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who won South Carolina’s primary but then foundered himself.

Despite the disappointment, Texas-based GOP consultant Allen Blakemore said Mr. Perry could still be a formidable foe in a GOP presidential race.

“All of the things he ran on are still in place, and alive and viable in Texas, which is an economic engine for the nation,” he said. “That continues to make him a viable and competitive candidate nationwide.”

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