Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in the history of the state of Texas, appears to be positioning himself for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
Perry’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign has been orchestrated to include national issues and emphasize his role in making Texas one of the strongest economies in the country. According to the June Gallup numbers, 49% of Americans think that the economy and/or unemployment are the most pressing issues facing the nation. In the same month, Texas led the nation in job growth with the addition of 14,000 new jobs.
Despite the fact that Perry is running for state office, he repeatedly references the need for change in Washington, D.C., using Texas as the gold standard. As early as July 2009, Perry indicated the importance of Texas to the rest of the nation when he told the Houston Chronicle: “I feel we are influencing the national debate from the bully pulpit of the governorship of Texas.”
Governor Perry recently cast himself into the national spotlight by becoming an outspoken supporter of the tea party movement. Videos on his website and YouTube feature the governor inviting Texans to join him in rallies across the state. He publicly awarded fellow conservative and popular news commentator, Glenn Beck, with honorary citizenship in the state of Texas. These calculated moves were aimed at garnering national, not local attention.
Also, in following the success of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Perry has changed the way that he reaches out to potential supporters. In 2010, he is forgoing traditional yard signs and instead focusing on social media. His Facebook page boasts over forty thousand fans while U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, his opponent in the Republican primary, had less than half of that on her two pages combined.
This effort to reach out to national and social media and identify with newer movements has fared well with younger voters who tend to participate more in national elections. Perry’s message is successfully getting through to young Texans and expanding to youth across the nation. In an email interview, Shawn Griffiths, director of media relations for the Young Conservatives of Texas, says,
The rapid growth of movements like the tea party movement throughout the United states is evidence that more and more people, especially young people, are beginning to understand that more limitations on federal authority are needed, because the rapid expansion in the size of the central government has had a negative effect on our country. It is because of this that more and more people are looking to leaders like Rick Perry as ideal candidates to help steer our nation in the right direction.
Despite the evidence that Perry is focusing on a national audience, Perry has denied his interest in climbing to the top of the political ladder. The Dallas News quoted Perry saying, “I have great interest in who the president is going to be in 2012. It won’t be me. I have no interest in going to Washington, D.C.”
This wouldn’t be the first time that Perry has denied interest in an office only to go on the campaign trail later. After winning his second term as governor, Perry said that he would not run again, making fellow Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison a shoe-in.
However, early this year Perry went up against Senator Hutchison in one of the most heated Republican primary elections that the state has seen in a decade. Hutchison, whose February approval rating was at 58%, was expected to pose a threat to Perry. But Perry’s anti-Washington rhetoric drew conservatives to the ballots. He garnered 51% of the vote while the senator got just 30%.
This was the strong political victory Perry had hoped for, and it is exactly what he needs to secure his place as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012. Backed by some of the strongest organizations in Texas such as the Texas Association of Realtors and endorsed by Sarah Palin in the primaries, Perry is building up a campaign of tough political alliances.
Perry’s focus on national politics, however, has led many Texans to criticize his handling of state issues. While Perry adamantly opposes Obama’s health care plan, almost a quarter of adults in Texas remain without medical insurance. A poll conducted by the Texas Tribune in conjunction with the University of Texas found that a mere 38% of Texans approve of the job that Perry is doing in Austin, and 40% disapprove.
Perry’s opponents in the state attempt to compare him to George W. Bush. One blogger for the Brownsville Herald vehemently opposes a Perry run in the next presidential election. “President in 2012?” he writes. “This cannot be forgotten — we’ve already had a Texas Moron in that job. Remember that Bozo?”
So how is a governor with such a low approval rating and vocal adversaries going to advance to national politics? By winning, and like Bush that is something that Perry is good at.
In February of this year, the cover of Texas Monthly magazine showed a smirking Rick Perry standing behind the White House pulpit and flanked with American flags. The subtitle read, “It’s not about 2010. It’s about 2012. Trust Me.” Perry may not admit that he is looking at the White House just yet, but Texans seem to think so.
One voter thinks he might do just that. In an email interview she says, “I believe that if Rick Perry believes that he can better serve Texas and all of America in 2012 by being elected president and he believes that he stands a good chance to win, then he will strongly consider running.”
If Perry’s recent upset in the Republican primary and his attention to national politics is any indication, then he already is.