By JIM DAVENPORT, Associated Press
The Republican governor is considering a GOP presidential bid and preparing for his first political stop ahead of the key early primary in South Carolina, where social issues always play well. But Perry told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that a presidential campaign would concentrate on jobs, not evolution or gay marriage.
"The issue that is most important and most on people's minds is jobs," Perry said.
"The candidate that Americans can get excited about, that truly understands that and can deliver that, I think, is a candidate that is really going to excite the imagination and get the juices flowing of the electorate out there," he said. Pointing to an increase in employment in his state, the governor said he's cracked the code for figuring out how to create jobs.
Perry said the stimulus and job creation efforts of President Barack Obama haven't worked. "I think we poured about $4 trillion down that rat hole and government has not created a job," he said.
Supporters of the stimulus plan point out that jobs were saved because of the effort congressional Republicans opposed. And while Perry fought Washington over accepting a portion of Obama's economic stimulus package because of strings attached to the money, the state ended up using billions of the federal aid to balance the state budget, avoiding a possible financial disaster.
Perry, 61, said social issues should be decided state by state and even remarked that New York's passage of gay marriage law was that state's business. Still, he said he would support a constitutional amendment that takes away the power of the states to decide who can get married.
"Yes, sir, I would. I am for the federal marriage amendment," he said. "And that's about as sharp a point as I could put on it."
Perry has used more than words to support tempering evolution taught in schools with creationism.
This month, he appointed a biology teacher who disputes evolution as chairwoman of the Texas State Board of Education. In 2009, that 15-member board put the national spotlight on Texas in a debate that led to adopting standards encouraging schools to look at "all sides" of scientific theory. It now is considering educational materials that promote intelligent design even though a federal court ruled against teaching the theory that life on Earth is so complex that it must have come from an intelligent higher power.
"There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn't happen by accident and a creator put this in place," Perry said.
"Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I'm not going to tell you that I've got the answers to that," Perry said. "I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there's enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory."
If there's a creator for Perry's candidate-in-waiting campaign, it's his wife, Anita. Hours before his 2010 election to a third full term, Perry told the AP that his out-of-mainstream views were proof that he could never run for president. Anita Perry changed his outlook.
Perry said his wife's political instincts have always been spot-on. She was concerned about last year's passage of federal health care laws hurting innovation and care as well as a soaring national debt that would burden their children. While her husband had a good job already, she told him "you need to do your duty," Perry recalled.
"That was a very sobering conversation. It was one that made me sit down and reconsider my blanket rejection, if you will, of my interest in running for the presidency. I've gone from 'no way, no how' to 'I'm going to think about this' to getting comfortable in my heart and calm in my soul that this is an appropriate thing to do," Perry said.
"I still don't wake up every morning and go, 'Man, being a president of the United States is something I dream about every day,' no more than, I suppose, a soldier on June the 5th or June the 6th of 1944 looked forward to running up the beach at Normandy," he said.
No decision has been made. Perry said that could wait as long as until Labor Day. Nonetheless, he's on a well-worn candidate-in-waiting trajectory: raising his profile, planning stump speeches in early voting states; putting feelers out for staff, and working key donors to fuel a campaign that would spend hundreds of millions to clinch the primaries, nomination and general election.
On the day he appointed the school board member, Perry headed to the hospital for back surgery. Doctors had discovered a problem when he was 16. "It never caused me an ounce of problems until I got to be about 50 and then it got to be a nagging thing," he said. His doctor persuaded him to try surgery for the pain.
The avid jogger - he was a triathlete between 2002 and 2008 - said he's about 80 percent recovered. "When I'm fully recovered is when I get to start running again. I'm kind of hooked on running," he said. For now, he's swimming and hitting the treadmill for 1 1/2 miles a day, listening to a playlist that includes country singer Clay Walker and a North Dallas alternative rock band, Forever the Sickest Kids.
None of that is keeping him from the campaign circuit, he said. That includes his first political stop in South Carolina, planned for Aug. 13, to talk at a gathering in Charleston sponsored by the conservative website RedStates. The next day, Iowa voters will hold a straw poll designed to show early strength ahead of the state caucuses. Perry's not on the candidate list there and won't make a bid announcement while here.
The one-time Air Force cargo pilot said that won't create a problem getting his campaign airborne if he decides to run.
"I think we'll be able to break ground," he said, "even with a combat load on board."