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Is Texas Gov. Rick Perry Angling for GOP V.P. Slot?

Tuesday, 18 April 2006 12:00 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- Gov. Rick Perry of Texas had very different messages about federal spending in recent appearances before two very different groups.

To Senate budget writers in Washington, he pleaded for $2 billion to compensate the state for hurricane relief.

Four days later, Perry drew cheers from a Republican gathering in Tennessee when he lambasted big-spending government where "deficits explode, entitlement programs take over."

His appearances point up the dual strategies of a governor who insists he's focused on Texas as he approaches re-election while allies work to burnish his national credentials as a potential vice-presidential nominee.

The out-of-state events not only have heightened his profile but they have also created behind-the-scenes tension with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's backers. They see her as a more likely choice for vice president on a GOP ticket in 2008.

"She's going to be on the short list of whoever our nominee is going to be," Dallas businessman and Republican fundraiser Jim Francis said.

Perry political adviser Dave Carney declined to talk about anything beyond the current Texas race. But as a measure of the effort to market Perry on the national stage, the governor and Carney met last year with a top Washington operative to discuss writing a book to showcase the governor's conservative bona fides.

Gov. Rick Perry has made a number of out-of-state appearances that have heightened his national profile. "There have been a lot of conservative leaders and politicians who have been successful as book authors, starting with Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich," said Craig Shirley, whose firm markets books for major political figures.

Shirley said he had lunch with the governor and Carney, where they discussed the process of writing, publishing and promoting a book.

"When they came to me, they already had the idea of writing the book," he said. "I offered some suggestions about topics and publishers and things like that."

He said Perry - who succeeded Gov. George W. Bush in 2000 when Bush became president - would have strong appeal among national conservatives because of his views on taxes and social issues.

Shirley added that it was clear Perry wanted to win re-election first before publicly expanding attention beyond Texas.

Texas' long history of producing national political figures stems from its size and rich source of campaign contributions as well as a penchant for rough-and-tumble politics that prepares candidates for national campaigns.

Carney said the only thing the governor is concentrating on is his run this year for another term in Texas.

"While it's flattering for people to talk about it and think about it, I just don't see that down the road," Carney said. "He's clearly focused on one thing now, and that's the special session (on school finance) and re-election."

Writing a book is often seen as a prelude to seeking high office.

Bush published his autobiography, "A Charge to Keep," after his 1998 re-election as governor. Others who've written books in advance of a presidential bid include Republican John McCain and Democrats John Kerry, Al Gore and John Edwards.

Texas Democrats reject the likelihood of either Perry or Hutchison as VP candidates. But both camps appear to be positioning themselves as contenders.

Perry spoke in February to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington and to a meeting of Southern Republican governors in March in Memphis, Tenn. There, he met with potential GOP presidential candidate Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Senate majority leader.

"He's a very attractive candidate and he's a true conservative, someone who will be on various folks' lists," said Bill Lauderback, executive vice president of the American Conservative Union, which sponsored the Washington event.

Lauderback, a former economic development agency official from Texas who has known Perry since the 1980s, said he intends to invite Perry to speak again next year to the high-profile conservative conference.

Carney denied any conflict between Perry's appeal to the Senate Appropriations Committee for federal funds and his appearance later before the GOP group in Memphis denouncing runaway government spending.

He said the request for hurricane relief was good stewardship as governor and his pitch to the Republican leaders "was just standard rally-the-troops" rhetoric.

This month, Perry appeared in Houston with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who may run for president. McCain has signed a campaign contribution solicitation letter for Perry, saying, "Texas leads the way in advancing a strong Republican message that is a model for America."

Meanwhile, Hutchison allies have what one associate calls "a full strategy in place that's ongoing to be vice president," including aggressive political fundraising and national appearances.

Hutchison's decision against challenging Perry's re-election was based in part on the belief that she would be better positioned for the national ticket by avoiding a risky, politically bloody battle for governor.

Francis, the Dallas fundraiser and Hutchison supporter, said Republicans probably will be looking for a woman to balance the ticket if Democrats pick Hillary Rodham Clinton as their presidential nominee.

"If you look at who's got good national exposures, who's already up to snuff on the issues, you basically end up with Kay Bailey Hutchison and Condi Rice," Francis said, referring to the secretary of state.

Former state GOP Chairman Fred Meyer touted Hutchison as an appealing figure on a future national GOP ticket.

"One of the best things about Kay is her ability to phrase positions and state positions in a way that does not alienate people who don't agree with you," he said.

Generally, Hutchison is seen as being more moderate than Perry on some social issues, such as abortion.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who knows Hutchison and Perry, said each has a good record on controlling taxes and spending. And he said either one would be an asset to the Republican Party.

"If you're talking about who might run for president or vice president, who might be in the Cabinet or play a key role, both of those names are going to be up there," he said.

"So yeah," he said, looking ahead to the next presidential sweepstakes. "You guys get two bites at the apple."

(c) 2006, The Dallas Morning News via NewsCom

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Gov. Rick Perry of Texas had very different messages about federal spending in recent appearances before two very different groups. To Senate budget writers in Washington, he pleaded for $2 billion to compensate the state for hurricane relief....
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Tuesday, 18 April 2006 12:00 AM
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