GREENLAND, N.H. – Texas Governor Rick Perry officially declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination today during speeches in South Carolina and, later, New Hampshire.
Perry pledged to improve the country’s economy, heighten its stature in the world, and repeal the federal universal health care law enacted by the Democrat he hopes to unseat, President Obama. He also promised policies that would reverse the country’s recent credit downgrade.
“The fact is for the three years now that President Obama has been in office, he’s been downgrading American jobs, he’s been downgrading our standing on the world, he’s been downgrading our financial stability, downgrading the hope of a better future for our children,’’ Perry told a crowd of over 150 gathered around the pool of a Seacoast home.
“It’s time to get America working, folks, and that’s the reason I am announcing my candidacy today to be president of the United States.’’
Perry, who replaced George W. Bush as leader of Texas when Bush resigned to assume the presidency himself in 2001, repeated in New Hampshire what he said earlier during a speech to a convention of conservative bloggers in Charleston, S.C. The state votes immediately after New Hampshire next year.
“I’ll work every day to try to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can,’’ he told attendees of the RedState Gathering.
The Texan said the incumbent president has an “unbridled fixation’’ with spending, and his policies have extended the recession rather than solving it.
“It’s time to get America working again,’’ Perry said, noting 40 percent of the new jobs in the country since June 2009 have been in Texas. His state has an unemployment rate of 8.2 percent, almost a full point below the 9.1 percent national rate.
Perry also echoed Bush’s hawkish foreign policy, pledging especially to be an unqualified ally of Israel.
“We’re going to be standing with our friends,’’ he said. “And if you are our enemy, we’re not just going to give you some lip service. If you try to hurt the United States, we will come defeat you.’’
US Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas, a Democrat who has vowed to travel the country raising awareness of Perry’s record, said many of the jobs credited to the governor are minimum wage positions or have come from his active efforts to lure businesses to Texas from higher-tax states.
“He’s not going to be able to help create jobs in this country simply by moving them around the country,’’ Doggett said during a conference call arranged by the New Hampshire Democratic Party.
Perry’s announcement came the same day Republicans gathered in Ames, Iowa, for the quadrennial Iowa Straw Poll.
Seeking to break into a crowded group of GOP contenders who have been campaigning for months and already held two nationally televised debates, Perry planned to immediately head off to Iowa after his visits to South Carolina and New Hampshire.
In the Granite State, he visited the home of state Representative Pam Tucker, who was among a group that recently traveled to Texas to encourage Perry to run.
“I intend to compete for every vote in every state,’’ the governor said in what could have been a subtle jab at the current GOP frontrunner, Mitt Romney, who is largely bypassing Iowa. “This isn’t a strategy just to go work in a few places. We’re going to be all over the place.’’
Bush, the last Texas governor to seek the presidency, lost the 2000 New Hampshire primary by a stunning 19 points after winning the Iowa caucuses. His campaign recovered in South Carolina.
Perry tried to stroke the local audience, mentioning the Boston Bruins recent Stanley Cup win and saying: “I feel right at home amongst people whose motto is, ‘Live Free or Die.’’’
He added: “But you can’t live free if you’ve got a federal government that takes over one-sixth of our economy, like they’re trying to do with our health care. You can’t live free knowing your children are going to inherit a mountain of debt. You can’t live free if you don’t have the dignity of having a job or the income to take care of your family.’’
Political analysts see Perry as a particular threat to Romney, exceeding his governmental experience, presiding over a state with strong job growth, and with the added resume item of military service after serving as an Air Force pilot.
“Perry substantially changes the equation,’’ said former Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon, a longtime Texas resident. “Romney can no longer rest comfortably at the top of pack. I think the sleepy GOP nomination fight is about to get a wake-up call.’’
The 61-year-old Perry is also a Methodist and avowed social conservative, opposing abortion and gay marriage. Last weekend, he convened a religious rally in Houston in a prelude to his candidacy.
Romney, 64, is a Mormon, and social conservatives opposed him on both political and religious grounds during the 2008 campaign in both Iowa and South Carolina.
While Perry, a former cotton farmer, lacks the millions Romney made as a venture capitalist, he has proven to be a strong fund-raiser and leads a state with 38 electoral votes — second only to California’s 55.
During the 2008 campaign, Perry did not endorse Romney, choosing instead New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and, when he dropped out, the eventual nominee, US Senator John McCain.
Analysts also see Perry presenting a political challenge to Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, who won the Straw Poll. Like her, he is supported by Tea Party activists, particularly after he raised secession as an option for his state “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people,’’ as he said in 2009.
Perry is a fifth-generation Texan from the town of Paint Creek. An Eagle Scout, he graduated from Texas A&M, where he was a yell leader — a coveted position as a cheerleader. He was commissioned in the Air Force, where he was trained to fly C-130 cargo planes and rose to the rank of captain.
Originally a Democrat, he entered the political arena in 1984 when he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. He earned a reputation as a fiscal conservative during his service on the Appropriations Committee. He served as Al Gore’s Texas campaign manager during the 1988 Democratic presidential nominating campaign.
In 1989, however, he switched parties and ran a year later for Texas agricultural commissioner. He served two terms before running for lieutenant governor in 1998.
When Bush was elected president, Perry replaced him as governor and now is the longest continuously serving governor in the country.
Supporters boast that he has never lost an election, despite some narrow victories.