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Jobs are crux of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign for president

A Gallup poll shows Texas Gov. Rick Perry has a double-digit lead over other Republican presidential candidates.

Associated Press

A Gallup poll shows Texas Gov. Rick Perry has a double-digit lead over other Republican presidential candidates.

He burst into the Republican presidential field with typical Texan bravado, corralling attention from his rivals and promising to "work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can."

And while many Republicans wait for another contender, supporters of Texas Gov. Rick Perry say his jobs record is all that matters when the country is mired in economic crisis.

"Everything else is a lesser priority," said A.K. Desai, a St. Petersburg health care executive who is hosting Perry's first Florida fundraiser on Sept. 13.

Less than two weeks into Perry's campaign, a Gallup poll shows him leading the pack with 25 percent support among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. That's 11 points ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Never mind that Perry, previously a Democrat, campaigned for Al Gore's 1988 presidential run, raised eyebrows by saying if Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke orders the printing of more money it amounts to treason, and implied that Texans might get so fed up with Democratic actions in Washington that they would clamor for secession.

Since Perry became Texas governor 11 years ago, the state has added 850,000 jobs, more than all other states combined.

That's the crux of his campaign and the mantra of his backers.

"I can't tell you that I understand the entire recipe, but I believe that Perry has an eye for developing an environment in which jobs can be created and people can get to work," said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Florida's next Senate president, who endorsed Perry hours after he declared but has never met him.

Critics note Perry can't take full credit for the jobs, saying many come from growth in the oil and gas industry, and that Texas' fiscal health has come through deep cuts in education and billions in federal stimulus.

But Desai says the jobs data is evidence Perry has what it takes to be president.

"He also comes from a humble background and his ability to connect with people is tremendous," said Desai, who backed Romney in 2008. "He understands what it takes for people to make a living and also support a family and kids. He believes in the American values which we all want and aspire to. He's lived the American dream."

Perry, 61, grew up in tiny Paint Creek, Texas, the son of farmers, without indoor plumbing his first five years.

After Texas A&M, serving in the Air Force and a few years tending the family farm, he made his first run for office in 1984, winning a seat in the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat.

He switched to the Republican Party near the end of his third term, next winning statewide election as agriculture commissioner and later lieutenant governor — under George W. Bush.

Perry moved into the Governor's Mansion when Bush left in 2000, and his jump into the 2012 field immediately brought comparisons to the former president.

Reports have circulated that Perry doesn't get along with the Bush family, highlighting differences between their upper-crust, New England roots and Perry's low-brow upbringing.

Former Bush adviser and one-time Perry confidante Karl Rove fueled the talk when he publicly called Perry's Bernanke remark not "presidential."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dismissed the notion of any tensions in a Fox interview Tuesday.

"I've never heard anybody in my family saying anything but good things about Rick Perry," Bush said. "Texas has got a great story and he can legitimately talk about the story as a candidate for president."

Perry has a reputation as a straight-talker prone to hyperbole, throwing out the frequent "Howdy!" and punctuating speeches with a thumbs-up and references to God.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott enjoys a friendly rivalry with his Texas counterpart, frequently turning to Perry for advice. He describes Perry as someone who unapologetically says what he thinks.

"You know exactly who he is and what you see is what you get," Scott said.

Although Scott is not endorsing anyone, he said Perry would be an effective cheerleader for the nation. "Texas has sort of an attitude of people bragging about the state," he said. "He'll promote the country. … I think he'd represent the country well."

Some say Perry is too extreme for American masses and trying to outdo rival Michele Bachmann's conservative Christian credentials.

"With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis, and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God's help. That's why I'm calling on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did," Perry said in a video promoting a massive prayer rally he hosted just a week before announcing his presidential bid.

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor also challenging Perry for the GOP presidential nomination, said Perry's doubts about global warming and evolution make him "unelectable."

"The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party — the anti-science party, we have a huge problem," Huntsman told ABC's This Week on Sunday.

But polls show Perry a strong contender against President Barack Obama.

Gaetz said that after "window-shopping" with the current crop of candidates, Perry emerged as the obvious best option.

"This is a guy who has actually done the thing in his large state that this country needs done," Gaetz said. "If we're looking for people who have never made rhetorical gaffes we can find well-scripted, smooth-talking politicians, but they may not have the experience and produce the results that we need right now in this protracted economic crisis that has brought this country to its knees."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Rick Perry

Age: 61. Born March 4, 1950,

Paint Creek, Texas.

Professional experience: Air Force pilot; cotton and wheat farmer; Texas House of Representatives, 1985-1991; Texas agriculture commissioner, 1991-1999; Texas lieutenant governor, 1999-2000; Texas governor, 2000-present.

Family: Wife Anita Perry; children Griffin, 27, and Sydney, 25.

Education: Bachelor's degree in animal science, Texas A&M.

Religion: Evangelical Christian.

Source: rickperry.org

Jobs are crux of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign for president 08/25/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011 10:41pm]
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