Perry intends to join race for president
DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Rick Perry of Texas delivered a long-distance jolt to the Republican presidential campaign Monday by signaling that he intends to join the race and visit South Carolina and New Hampshire on Saturday, the same day his rivals are battling for survival in the Iowa Straw Poll.
Perry has flirted with the notion of running for months, but his decision comes as the Republican field tries to take advantage of a yearning for leadership in the wake of a downgrade in the nation's credit rating, a collapse in the financial markets and a sustained period of high unemployment. The cascading troubles have created a fresh moment for his candidacy.
''There is still a thirst for another voice to come in," said Craig Schoenfeld, an Iowa Republican who is leading a group here called Americans for Perry, which has been signing up supporters for the governor. "They are looking for the kind of leadership he has shown in Texas, while the country has gone the other direction."
While Perry will stop short of making an announcement this weekend, aides said, he is trying to hire campaign workers in key states, securing fundraising commitments and preparing to be fully engaged in the race by early next month when Republicans meet for three debates. Advisers said he has moved beyond the trial balloon stage of gauging support to executing a strategy.
The first test of his impact on the race could come as soon as Saturday, when candidates descend on Ames for the Iowa Straw Poll, a test of organizational strength. His name will not be on the ballot, but Americans for Perry, the independent group financed by several friends and political associates, has been urging supporters to cast a write-in ballot for him. That effort could erode support from his rivals.
In a week when Republican candidates had hoped to introduce themselves to voters through the rituals of the Iowa State Fair — featuring the legendary butter cow and old-time speeches on the political soapbox — the spotlight of the race was suddenly yanked south. The rollout of Perry's prospective presidential bid threw a volatile new element into the contest.
The intentions of Perry, which were the subject of considerable political chatter in Iowa and New Hampshire on Monday, were being carefully watched by the rest of the Republican field. The candidates, including Michelle Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, traveled across both early-voting states, delivering forceful critiques of how President Barack Obama has handled the latest stretch of bleak economic news.
Romney, whose advisers said was entering a new phase of his candidacy after laying low for several months, told voters in New Hampshire that the decision by Standard & Poor's to downgrade the nation's credit rating was the latest example of a failure of leadership in Washington. He said the president should take ultimate responsibility for the downgrade.
''The president is the person that leads the nation and leads the effort in Washington," Romney said. "If it's tough working there; welcome to the real world."
As they assess the Republican field, many voters seem to be more eager to hear about the candidates than the attacks on the president. At a town meeting Monday evening, when asked whether he could compete in all regions of the country, Romney declared: "I'm going to do pretty darn well in Dixie."
''You know there was a poll, I guess it was about a month ago, that was a little surprising," Romney said, making a veiled reference to Perry. "It had me as the only Republican candidate who in Texas could beat President Obama. I think I was ahead by 8 points. No one else was ahead of him."
At the same hour that the president spoke from the White House and tried to reassure Americans about the credit downgrade and the quavering economy, Perry inched closer to declaring his candidacy and Donald Trump threatened to re-enter the presidential race as an independent during an extended interview on CNN.
The commotion threatened to overshadow the rest of the Republican field.
Pawlenty, who said the future of his candidacy is dependent on a strong showing at the straw poll, said a culture of entertainment and celebrity has bled into the political arena. Over breakfast with reporters, he conceded that "we are not ever going to be the cable TV, shooting star of the month."
''At least for president, at least for the Oval Office," Pawlenty said, "I think the country is still going to put somebody in there who is experienced, seasoned, strong, thoughtful, with a record of results."
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When Bachmann's blue campaign bus rolled into the parking lot of the Cass County Fairgrounds in Atlantic on Monday afternoon, a modest crowd was on hand. She is seeking to turn the enthusiasm that has flared in the first two months of her candidacy into an organized force that can pass its first test of strength at the party's straw poll.
''So much bad news this last week," Bachmann said. "The problem is, we have not had someone in the White House who has had the backbone to make these tough decisions that have to be made."
The crises back in Washington, along with the attack on a helicopter in Afghanistan that killed 30 Americans, cast a serious and somber tone over the presidential race. At each campaign stop, Bachmann offered a prayer for the fallen and took a moment to identify Jon Tumilson, a member of the Navy SEAL team, from Rockford, Iowa.