Perry: 'I am a candidate for president'

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said Saturday he's running for president, announcing his candidacy in South Carolina with a speech focused on jobs and the economy.

Perry made his long-expected candidacy official before a crowd of conservative activists Saturday afternoon, shortly after having issued a statement on his website about his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

"I came to South Carolina because I will not sit back and accept the path that America is on," Perry said at the annual conference hosted by the conservative blog RedState. "It is time to get America working again, and that''s why, because with the support of my family, and an unwavering belief in the goodness of America, I declare to you today as a candidate for president of the United States."

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Perry riled up the crowd, which chanted "Per-ry, Per-ry," with heavy conservative rhetoric on the economy and jobs, and swipes at President Obama's record on foreign policy and healthcare.

"You cannot win the future by selling America off to foreign creditors. We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership," he said.

In response, the Obama campaign sought to cast Perry out of the gate as indistinguishable from other Republican candidates in the race.

“Governor Perry’s economic policies are a carbon copy of the economic policies of Washington Republicans," said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. "In a Republican field that has already pledged allegiance to the Tea Party and failed to present any plan that will benefit the middle class or create the jobs America needs to win the future, Governor Perry offers more of the same.”

Perry's choice of a RedState gathering to announce was a significant one in itself.

While other major contenders for the Republican nomination launched their campaigns in more formal settings — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with a speech in New Hampshire, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty with respective speeches in Iowa — Perry is making his candidacy known before a group of conservative bloggers who represent the new, activist generation in the Republican Party. 

The annual RedState gathering has proved be the launching point for successful conservative candidacies in the past: Nikki Haley's run for governor in South Carolina and Marco Rubio's Florida Senate run, among others, are some of the blog's biggest success stories.

Perry's speech featured a great deal of red meat for the conservative activists gathered in Charleston. He accused Obama of "aimless" foreign policy, and of presiding over "an economic disaster." He also cast himself as a political outsider.

"I know something: America isn't broken; Washington, D.C. is broken," he said.

Perry's hoping that he'll generate some of the grassroots buzz other Republican candidates had garnered from an appearance at the conference, except on a larger, national level this time. 


His early advantages upon entering the race are well-documented: As governor of Texas, he's presided over an economy that's outperformed most other states during one of the worst recessions in years. He's also been a visible conservative on issues of economic, social and foreign policy for years, giving him a degree of initial credibility with primary voters. 

But Perry's got other factors working in his favor. 

He enters the race at a formidable early position in the polls; a Gallup Poll this week found that Perry was the choice of 17 percent of Republicans, a figure good enough for second place, and within striking distance of Romney, the frontrunner, at 24 percent. 

He also is a clearly formidable fundraiser. The Republican Governors Association, which Perry had led the first half of this year, brought in a record $22.1 million by the end of June. Perry has established fundraising networks from his time as governor, and has the added benefit of unrestricted, so-called "super PACs" working on his behalf. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday evening that several Perry super PACs would consolidate their efforts.

Perry's announcement Saturday at the conference has the added benefit of being located this year in South Carolina, the state that traditionally goes third in the presidential nominating cycle. Tea Party and conservative activists have played an increasingly important role in House and Senate primaries in the Palmetto State, and that's a group of voters seen, somewhat, as Perry's natural base.

He made a direct pitch to the state's voters with a reference to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), castigating the labor panel for blocking a relocation by Boeing of a facility to South Carolina.

The buzz surrounding Perry's late entry into the campaign reflects just how reluctant Republicans have been to coalesce around a candidate. While Romney leads most national polls, and while he tests the best in head-to-head matchups against President Obama, polling indicates that Republicans haven't been particularly thrilled with their choices in candidates. 

Perry would seem, at first glance, to have the opportunity to stake out a position as the clear alternative to Romney, something that Bachmann and Pawlenty have attempting, with differing success. But the opening for Perry might be widest in states like Iowa and South Carolina, where he would face stiffer competition from candidates like Bachmann, since Romney's focused much of his political efforts on the New Hampshire primary.

But the Texas governor is also taking strides to make clear that he's not a one-trick-pony, and can gain wide appeal from throughout the GOP. 

Immediately after his speech in Charleston, Perry will head to a house party hosted by a state lawmaker in New Hampshire. On Sunday, he'll travel to Iowa, just a day after a winner (and presumable frontrunner for winter's Iowa caucuses) is crowned at the influential straw poll in Ames. 

He'll add more return trips to those states in the coming weeks, combining it with an aggressive early fundraising calendar outlined Saturday by the New York Times

The attentiveness to South Carolina in particular reflects the state's status as a potential tie-breaker in the primary clandar. With Romney's push in New Hampshire, Palmetto State voters could end up functioning as a kind of tie-breaker for the Republican campaign, with the winner of Iowa going up against Romney or another Granite State victor.

Updated at 1:36 p.m.