Rick Perry, the arch-conservative Governor of Texas, has given the clearest indication yet that he will run for President in 2012, a move that would reshape the fluid and uncertain race for the Republican nomination.
Even though he's technically on the sidelines, the 61-year-old Mr Perry has lately been running second or third in several polls, behind frontrunner Mitt Romney and roughly level with the Tea Party favourite Michele Bachmann. But he has now stepped to the very edge of the presidential waters.
"I'm not ready to tell you that I'm ready to announce that I'm in," he told The Des Moines Register, the leading newspaper in Iowa, where caucuses early next year kick off the primary season. "But I'm getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I've been called to do, this is what America needs."
The widespread expectation now is that Mr Perry will formally declare some time next month. If so, he could be a formidable candidate – a big-state Governor with personal charisma, a solid record and an appeal stretching from the social-conservative right to the party's anti-Washington, small-government wing, epitomised by the Tea Party movement.
After taking over when his predecessor, George W Bush, won the presidency in 2000, Mr Perry was three times elected in his own right, making him the longest-serving governor in the history of what is now America's second most populous state.
He can also point to his state's robust economic performance (some statistics show that Texas alone accounted for nearly half of all jobs created in the US since the 2008-09 recession) – a success, he claims, is built on low taxes, low spending and de-regulation that have long been Republican holy writ.
Outwardly, Mr Perry and Mr Bush have much in common. They have a similar Texan swagger and folksy style. They are both fine campaigners and share a huge ability to raise money. But Mr Bush, who ran for the White House on the slogan of "compassionate conservatism", is a moderate compared with the current Governor. Compassion does not feature in the latter's political vocabulary: "Perry is twice the cowboy Bush ever was," one Republican strategist has said.
Two factors would weigh against Mr Perry, should he join the fray. One is his late entry; in the past candidates who have waited have usually fizzled quickly, as exaggerated expectations fall victim to reality. The other is the doubt whether Americans are ready for another Texan president so soon after the last one left office – with an approval rating of barely 30 per cent.
But he has a lot going for him in a year when, polls show, Republicans have not made up their minds. As Governor of a large state he can boast an executive experience that is the main selling point of Mr Romney.Reuse content