Texas delegation presses Perry to run

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is being encouraged to enter the presidential race by the members of the Texas delegation he’s consulted about a White House bid.

Perry has spoken to Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the chairman of House Republicans' campaign efforts, and Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, as part of his decisionmaking process, the members said.

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And other members of the delegation are openly advocating for Perry, who’s reconsidering his earlier decision to stay out of the 2012 White House campaign.

"I think he's going through a very deliberative process that will be very good for him to properly determine how and when he would offer himself up to the Republican Party to run for president," Sessions said. "He's somebody who I think would be a strong candidate for the Republican Party nomination."

The Texas Republican, the longest-serving governor in the U.S., has received renewed overtures because of a perceived dissatisfaction with the candidates in the race, and particularly with no major candidate to carry the banner of the Tea Party, of which Perry was an early supporter.

Perry has said he'll make up his mind about whether to enter the race once the State Legislature finishes its special session later this month or in early July. He would be one of the last candidates — if not the absolute last — to enter the race, but he could prove a formidable foe.

Mark McKinnon, a longtime Texas Republican operative who helped President George W. Bush go from the governor's mansion in Austin to the White House, said he thinks Perry will run.

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"I think he has a lot of potential. I think he has honed a strong anti-Washington message that will appeal to a lot of Republicans," McKinnon said. "Perry is a disciplined and aggressive campaigner. He should not be underestimated."

Lawmakers are already getting on board.

Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) wrote Perry a letter that "pledged my full support to him.”

"After watching the [GOP primary debate last] Monday night, it was clear to me that we're not anywhere close to deciding who the candidate is," Marchant explained. "I just think this would be the time for him to make the move."

"I'm very optimistic he'll run, and if he runs, he'll win the nomination," said Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas).

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) also wants Perry in the race.

"I know he's seriously considering it, and I personally think that he'd be a great choice. I think right now, the Republican Party's looking for a real leader to come out of the fray, and he has the narrative, in terms of creating more jobs than any other state," he said.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the top-ranking House Republican from the delegation, said he's not ready to "take a stand" on the presidential campaign, but he had kind words for Perry.

"He's been a great governor of our state — one of the reasons that people are leaving other states to come to Texas is because we have a great job climate," said Hensarling, who hasn't spoken to Perry. "Frankly, that has a lot to do with his leadership."

Perry appears to enjoy an amicable relationship with the delegation following last year’s bitter gubernatorial primary battle with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). He beat her soundly with 21 percent of the vote and went on to win a full third term in office. (Perry, who was lieutenant governor under then-Gov. Bush, finished out that term when Bush won the White House.)

Most of the Texas delegation who got involved with the primary sided with Hutchison, but multiple members of the delegation said they expect most of their colleagues to support Perry if he gets into the presidential race.

Hutchison, meanwhile, said it's "pretty far down the road" in the campaign for Perry to win her support, but acknowledged his tough campaign credentials.

"Well, he certainly will be formidable," she said earlier this month on MSNBC. "He has a very good political team, I will say that. I know that firsthand."

If Perry does suffer defections in support from the powerful Texas bloc, it will be more due to his late entry and commitments other members have already made.

"I think if he decided to run, he would definitely be a contender. There's some appetite for other candidates, to get in, and he may well fill that niche," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who won’t endorse in the GOP primary because of his obligations as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). "The daunting part of it is to start from scratch after so many other people have had such a lead, particularly when it comes to fundraising. The fundraising challenges would be pretty steep."

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who's endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's (R-Ga.) presidential campaign, said that a Perry campaign would put him in a "real tough spot."

"I'm a close, personal friend of Rick Perry, and I think he's an outstanding governor and I think he would be a great president," he said. "I think having Gov. Perry in the field would be good for the Republican Party. From a personal perspective, I would rather see him not run, because I'm already committed to Newt Gingrich. But having a qualified candidate like Rick Perry for the people of the United States to choose would be a good thing."

The Texas members all acknowledge the case for Perry is strong. The Lone Star State has thrived (relatively speaking) amid an extended economic downturn most everywhere else in the U.S. He was quick to embrace the Tea Party, and rode the grassroots momentum to his primary victory over Hutchison.

Moreover, Perry's conservative bona fides have never been in question. He's been an ardent supporter of gun owners' rights, and conservative groups have gladly talked up the tort reforms he got through the Texas State Legislature. And while Perry's said the Day of Prayer he's holding Aug. 6 for fellow governors is nonpolitical, it's certainly not doing anything to harm his chances with social conservative voters.

Those red-meat conservatives play an important role in early primary states, especially Iowa and South Carolina, where McKinnon said Perry would contend.

"I think Iowa could become a contest between Perry and [Minnesota Rep. Michele] Bachmann," he said. "And if he wins there, he could do well in South Carolina."

If nothing else, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said, Perry's traction represents something of a quick political rebound for the Lone Star State.

"Just the notion of having a Texas governor run was something that I did not think I would see again in my lifetime," said Burgess, another Gingrich backer. "So thorough and effective was the demonization of George W. Bush by the left and the press when he left office ... it's been remarkable to see a resurgence where now a Texas governor would find the landscape just right for entering the field."