Texas Gov. Rick Perry is set to make his presidential intentions known this weekend, shaking up the Republican field with a sweeping tour through the all important early-state trifecta in two days: South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa.
Perry, a former Democrat, will start his weekend in Charleston, S.C., holding private politicial meetings in the morning. He'll then give a speech in which he likely plans to make it clear that he's pursuing a presidential bid at the RedState Gathering, a conference for conservative bloggers. Before departing Charleston, he'll host a casual meet-and-greet with the GOP leaders from across the state.
Perry will fly to New Hampshire Saturday evening to attend a house party hosted by state Rep. Pamela Tucker, R-Greenland, to introduce Perry to Granite State voters.
The Texas governor will close out his early-state tour Sunday by giving a speech in Waterloo, Iowa, one day after the majority of the GOP field gathers for the Ames Straw Poll.
Perry, 61, has reached out to Republican operatives, officials and donors across the country in the past few weeks as he entered the final decision phase for a presidential bid.
The longest-serving governor in the country, Perry boasts a solid economic record in the Lone Star state and clings to a social conservative agenda along with maintaining a strong religious life.
The governor claims that Texas accounts for nearly half of all jobs created in the past decade, a boost Americans would like to see nationwide.
While unemployment in Texas remains high at 8.2 percent, his state has accounted for 37 percent of all new U.S. jobs since the recession.
About 32,000 new jobs were created in the Lone Star state in the month of June alone, adding to the total 220,000 jobs Texas has created in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Perry has been a longtime opponent of the establishment in Washington and advocate of states' rights, a position that will resonate with Tea Party voters. In his book "Fed Up!" Perry criticized big government, called for greater freedom for state governments and blamed Washington politicians for hurting America.
But Perry has some controversial stances that might mean trouble for him in a general election. Perry once made divisive comments about the potential secession of Texas, a remark he has since rebuked. And he issued an executive ordering mandating all teenage girls in Texas be inoculated with the HPV vaccine. The Texas legislature subsequently overturned the executive order.
Most recently, he created confusion when he said he supports gay marriage laws though he opposes gay marriage. He later attempted to clarify his stance, saying he would support a federal amendment banning gay marriage.
Perry, a Methodist and self-described "man of faith," has also incorporated prayer into his governorship, ordering a proclamation in April for three days of prayer for rain in the drought-stricken state of Texas. He also supports the teaching of intelligent design along with evolution in Texas public schools.
Perry spearheaded efforts for the Response, a day of prayer and fasting in Houston this past weekend, which drew 30,000 people. But the event drew criticism for involving controversial religious figures and for excluding non-Christians.
And some people have compared Perry to another Texan who ascended from the governorship to the White House -– George W. Bush -– a characterization from which Perry has attempted to distance himself.
"The idea of, 'Just because you're from Texas, you're all alike and you're all cut from the same cloth' is a bit of a stretch," Perry told the Des Moines Register in July. "The folks that want to make that comparison, they'll figure out pretty quick that, 'Hey, this guy Perry, he's different.'"
Who Is Rick Perry?
A fifth-generation Texan, Perry was born in Haskell County, Texas in 1950 to Ray and Amelia Perry, cotton farmers. The future Texas governor grew up in the small west Texas village of Paint Creek, an area that he told the Texas Monthly his father described as the "big empty."
"We had chickens. We milked our own cows, churned our own butter, had a garden," Perry said in June 2010. "There were three things to do in Paint Creek: school, church and Boy Scouts. That's it. And it was plenty."
Growing up, Perry earned the honor of Eagle Scout and met his future wife, Anita Thigpen, at a piano recital in elementary school. He married her more than 20 years later. Perry and his wife have one son, Griffin, and one daughter, Sydney.
Perry attended Texas A&M University in College Station, where he majored in animal science, was a yell leader and a member of the Corps of Cadets.
Perry Has a Perfect Election Record
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. Perry supported Al Gore's presidential bid in 1988 and even spearheaded his election efforts in the state of Texas.
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 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 Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in the primary election in 2010. Perry also serves as the president of the Republican Governor's Association.
Perry would enter the presidential race undefeated, having never lost an election in his three decades of working in government.