Rick Perry's 2012 Window of Opportunity

Given Mitch Daniels' and Mike Huckabee's decisions not to run, and Newt Gingrich's shaky campaign launch, the fiercely partisan Texas governor could be a top presidential contender among social conservatives and Tea Party types, writes Mark McKinnon.

05.22.11 10:41 PM ET

Given Mitch Daniels’ and Mike Huckabee’s decisions not to run, and Newt Gingrich’s shaky campaign launch, the fiercely partisan Texas governor could be a top presidential contender among social conservatives and Tea Party types, writes Mark McKinnon. Plus, more hopefuls who declined to run.

Ready or not, America, get ready for another Republican presidential candidate from Texas. Meet Ricky Perry. You're likely to be hearing a lot about him real soon.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels' announcement this weekend that he will not be a candidate for president—coupled with Mike Huckabee's decision not to run, and Newt Gingrich's disastrous 2012 launch—is going to create a Texas tornado-size draft for Rick Perry.

By spurning any interest in presidential politics and committing himself to legislative duty in his own backyard, Perry has, by design or by luck, put himself in the cat bird's seat. Suddenly, the field has been cleared and Perry could have an open path running among social conservatives and Tea Party types, who find him very appealing.

Perry is a fierce partisan, and his brand of conservatism makes George W. Bush's look truly compassionate. But, for stout conservatives, he's got a good story to tell. It will go like this:

Under Rick Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, Texas continues to lead the nation in job creation. And despite a record influx of job seekers from other states, the unemployment rate in the state continues to be below the national average. How did Texas become home to more Fortune 500 companies than any state in the nation? According to Perry: “Texas’ low taxes, reasonable and predictable regulatory climate, fair legal system, and skilled workforce have made the Lone Star State a beacon for job creation and economic growth.”

And it ain’t just Perry bragging. Newsweek describes Texas as "the No. 1 destination for job-seeking Americans, thanks to a hearty energy sector and a strong spirit of entrepreneurism." The Wall Street Journal dubbed Texas the "mecca for high tech, venture capital, aeronautics, health care and even industrial manufacturing." Even a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers from California visited Austin a few weeks ago to learn how Texas was creating jobs.

Perry and the fiscally conservative Republican majority in the Texas House and Senate embraced the Tea Party movement early on, supporting an agenda that included balancing the budget without increasing taxes, securing the border, requiring a photo ID at the polls, and the always popular assertion of state sovereignty, echoing the theme in Perry’s recent book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington. Not surprising then, that Perry has butted heads with the Obama administration repeatedly over such issues as border security, EPA “overreach,” Medicare spending, and federal funding for education and disaster relief.

Perry’s brand of conservatism makes George W. Bush’s look truly compassionate.

Michelle Cottle: Wives With White House Veto PowerPerry is also calling for a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, holding the federal government to the same spending limits faced by states. In Austin, grueling budget negotiations are continuing well past midnight (literally) as the end of the Texas legislative session draws near. The Texas House and Senate only meet for one short session every two years. A two-year budget is set after wishlist spending requests are reconciled with the comptroller’s estimate of future funds available. Battle lines are drawn, balancing painful cuts in spending, especially in school funding, versus a raid on the state’s rainy-day fund. If the legislature passes the budget as currently negotiated, Texas will actually spend several billion dollars less in the next biennium than it spent in the current biennium.

Normally, when politicians talk about “cutting the budget,“ they really mean reducing the amount of increase. Actual spending goes up while the politicians claim to have “cut the budget.” Perry will have a great deal to talk about in terms of facing a serious fiscal crisis without raising taxes, which will only increase attention from Rush Limbaugh, who sang Perry’s praises last week, and other political pundits in the national media. Asked whether the attention is flattering, Perry told reporters: "I've got a legislative session that is substantially more important to the people of the state of Texas and to me to get distracted by any talk, whether it's what you would call flattering or whether it's what I would call maybe not so flattering."

The Texas legislative session will be over in a matter of days, and given the Daniels decision, Rick Perry is about to get a whole lot more flattered.

As vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton and Public Strategies, and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-founder of No Labels and co-chair of Arts & Labs.