Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is riding a wave of support from the evangelical conservative Republicans who have been the mainstay of his political career, is set to announce his future political plans here on Monday, with plenty of buzzing underway in the state about the future of the 63 year old who is already the longest serving governor in Texas history.
Even the timing of his announcement is raising eyebrows. Perry had said that his political plans were 'on the back burner' as a second special session of the State Legislature is debating a highly emotional package of abortion restrictions which has captured the attention of the nation, and has pushed Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis, who has led the opposition to the bill, into the national spotlight.
"Before Wendy Davis became a national star, people weren't giving Rick Perry good odds of running for re-election, everybody assumed he would go off into the sunset and get ready to run for President," said Jason Stanford, an Austin-based Democratic Party consultant. "Now it looks like he's spoiling for a fight."
Perry, who moved up from Lieutenant Governor when George W. Bush was elected President in 2000 and is the longest continuously serving governor in the country, has appeared energized by the abortion battle, and the potential challenge being presented by Davis, who has been lauded as the candidate who can turn the nation's largest Republican state into, if not blue Democrat, at least into a 'purple' state where both parties are competitive. Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide executive office since 1994.
"If somebody will take the life of a five month old child in the womb," Perry told WOAI Radio in San Antonio on Monday, referring to Davis, "that person is not going to have any problem taking your money away or any of your other freedoms."
While Perry is expected to shed light on Monday about whether he plans to seek a fourth full term as Texas governor, national Republicans will be waiting for any hint whether he plans to make a second run for President in 2016.
Cal Jillson, a political analyst at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says if Perry does not seek re-election as governor, it may be because he will focus full time on a Presidential run, much like Mitt Romney did not seek re-election as Governor of Massachusetts in 2006 to concentrate on his 2008 Presidential bid.
"Because he knew about being Governor of Texas, he was not prepared to be a candidate for President of the United States, particularly in national security, foreign policy, international affairs, military issues," Jillson said.
Perry has often joked about 'parachuting in' to his 2012 Presidential bid, a campaign which started with much promise, but ended with what is called his 'oops moment' during a November 2011 debate in Michigan, when he appeared to freeze on stage and was unable to remember the names of three federal agencies he planned to abolish.
Strategist Dave Carney told the Harvard Institute for Politics that lingering pain from back surgery which made it uncomfortable for Perry to sleep led to many of his problems during that campaign. Perry has repeatedly joked about his own poor performance, and Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston, says a vigorous and confident Perry could overcome his 2012 debacle and climb back onto the national stage.
"Pundits and liberals and Perry opponents care far more about the 'oops moment' than do voters in the Republican primary," Jones said. "As long as he does well on the campaign trail. Where it could trouble him, since people are looking for him to make mistakes, any mistake he makes is automatically going to be linked back to the oops moment."
Jones says a bigger problem for Perry if he decides to run for President in 2016 is that his time may have passed, and Republicans may be looking for a younger candidate, much like Democrats found with Barack Obama in 2008.
"Perry would start out not in the first tier but maybe in the second or even third tier of Republican candidates," he said. "He is going to face a whole new generation of politicians, and Republicans who want a fresh face will have it, anything from Marco Rubio to Ted Cruz to Bobby Jindal and even Chris Christie. Rick Perry would have a lot of competition on his hands."
Stanford says Democrats 'aren't lucky enough' to get Perry as the Republican Presidential nominee.
"We are assuming he runs for President, because we all know it doesn't matter," he said. "Republicans are just being nice to him because he is so irrelevant."
Perry has been counted out several times during his political career, which started as a Democrat in the Texas Legislature in the 1980s. He waffled about running for re-election in 2010, and after then U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison entered the race for governor, Perry defeated her soundly thanks to the support of conservative evangelical Republicans who largely control the Republican primary system in Texas, and who have always been soundly in Perry's corner.
"In Texas, the road to the governor's office goes straight through the Republican primary electorate,” Jones said. "Right now, Perry retains very strong support among Republican primary voters."
No analyst would predict that a Perry departure would affect the state's solid Republican status, at least in 2014. Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has battled many of the Obama Administration’s proposals, including the Affordable Care Act, in court to burnish his conservative credentials, has a campaign war chest in excess of $18 million, and is actively pursuing a run for governor, according to many sources, whether Perry seeks re-election or not.
Even the e-mail which invited 'friends' to the still unscheduled announcement 'around midday in San Antonio to discuss his exciting future plans' and promises 'details to follow' is vague about what race, if any, Perry will address. It is widely believed that Perry will announce whether he will run for re-election as governor, and will not touch on his Presidential aspirations.
"I don't know what he is going to say," Jillson said. "Getting into Governor Perry's head is a fairly scary place."