Rick Perry 2012: Republican Presidential Candidate

PHOTO: Topping the national Republican presidential polls over the last few weeks, Rick Perry has been forced to confront his past as a Democrat.
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Rick Perry declared his candidacy for president Aug. 13, 2011, at a speech to the Red State Gathering in Charleston, S.C. Perry entered the presidential race undefeated, having never lost an election in his three decades of working in government.

A fifth-generation Texan, James Richard "Rick" Perry was born in Haskell County, Texas, March 4, 1950, to Ray and Amelia Perry, who were cotton farmers.

Perry and his sister grew up in the small west Texas village of Paint Creek, an area that his father described as "the big empty."

Perry's home had no indoor plumbing for the first five years of his life, and he wore clothes sewn by his mother.

Growing up, Perry was a quarterback on his high school football team and earned the honor of Eagle Scout. He met his future wife, Anita Thigpen, at a piano recital in elementary school and went on his first date with her when he was 16. He married her 16 years later. Perry and Anita, a nurse, have one son, Griffin, and one daughter, Sydney.

Among the first in his family to attend college, Perry enrolled at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, in 1968, where he majored in animal science, was a yell-leader and a member of the Corps of Cadets.

Perry has joked that he was not the best student.

"Very proud to stand before you today and tell you I graduated in the top 10 in my graduating class (applause) … of 13," he told students at Liberty University in Virginia in September.

Upon graduation in 1972, Perry was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force and flew C-130 tactical aircraft in the United States, Middle East and Europe. He was discharged with the rank of captain and returned to west Texas to help on his family ranch in 1977.

After years as a cotton farmer, Perry jumped into politics in 1985 when he entered the state House of Representatives as a conservative Democrat.

Despite being a Democrat, Perry voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 but supported Al Gore's presidential bid in 1988.

In 1989, Perry switched parties and became a Republican. The following year he ran and won in the election for agriculture commissioner, a role in which he promoted the sale of Texas farm produce to other states and foreign nations.

After serving two terms as agriculture commissioner, Perry ran for lieutenant governor and became the state's first Republican lieutenant governor since Reconstruction.

Upon George W. Bush's election to the presidency, Perry assumed the Texas governorship in 2000. He has since won three re-elections as governor, even defeating popular Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the primary election in 2010.

Perry served as the president of the Republican Governors Association prior to his candidacy.

As governor, Perry has overseen a jump in job creation in Texas, with the state accounting for nearly half of all jobs created since the recession began. Perry has overseen the creation of nearly 1.1 million jobs since he became governor in 2000.

Perry, a Methodist and self-described "man of faith," has issued proclamations for days of prayer for rain and supports teaching creationism alongside evolution in Texas schools. Perry is a strong opponent of gay marriage and abortion.

In August 2011, he organized a national day of prayer and fasting called "The Response" in Houston that was attended by 30,000 people. He supports the teaching of intelligent design along with evolution in Texas public schools.

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