After walking into the packed and sweaty conference room where he was about to announce his run for presidency Saturday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry paused in the glare of the spotlight, spread his feet just past shoulder-width, and cast a long shadow behind him. In his posture, he looked every bit like a wild west gunslinger, but at the lectern, where conservative leaders had been riling up the crowd with populist appeals all morning, he was relatively mild-mannered.
Perry was an invited speaker at the RedState Gathering, a conservative convention organized by RedState.com blogger Erick Erickson, who at one time announced that he had evidence proving that FITSNews blogger Will Folks was paid to claim he had an affair with Gov. Nikki Haley; after being pressed to release the information, Erickson, a long-time champion of Haley, later admitted that he had no such proof.
Earlier in the day, at the same lectern in a Francis Marion Hotel conference room, campaign strategist Drew Ryun had described the process of winning elections as "hand-to-hand combat" and postulated about what Tea Partiers could do to "infiltrate both parties." Political activist Max Pappas had declared the "end of the progressive era" thanks to "Sen. Jim DeMint and his new band of freedomphiles." And Gov. Haley had drawn boisterous cheers for declaring that states' rights and the 10th Amendment should "trump everything."
But when the plainspoken governor ascended the platform to announce his bid for office, he talked in general terms and made a lot of references to his childhood in the tiny West Texas town of Paint Creek. Perry, who led the presidential pack in a recent Zogby poll of GOP voters, is being vaunted as both a fiscal and a social conservative. One of his selling points is that Texas has gained over a million new jobs in his decade as governor — although Texas also leads the nation in percentage of minimum-wage jobs, many of which do not offer health benefits.
Perry made a few direct jabs at President Barack Obama, calling him an "abject failure" at stopping the flow of undocumented immigrants and vowing to repeal Obama's signature health care reforms if elected in 2012. In a brief reference to the National Labor Relations Board lawsuit against Boeing for opening its new facility in right-to-work South Carolina, Perry said that "cronies" of Obama in the NLRB were trying to dictate where the company could build a plant.
Aside from those, few of Perry's talking points diverged from boilerplate GOP promises: Spend less, tax less, regulate less.
"I'll work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can," Perry said.