RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One of the potential Republican candidates who stayed on the sidelines last night was Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry has been coy about a possible run.

But as NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports, he is capturing more and more attention.

WADE GOODWYN: Could Rick Perry be the next Texas governor to be president of the United States?

Governor RICK PERRY (Republican, Texas): Buenos dias, Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of applause)

GOODWYN: This last week in Los Angeles, speaking before a group of pro-life Hispanics, he sure sounded like a candidate.

Gov. PERRY: Within the first week in office, President Obama, he chose to overturn the Mexico City Policy, which basically means that your federal tax dollars can now be used to fund abortions all over the world.

GOODWYN: Rick Perry started out his political life as a Texas Democrat. But as Texas has moved further to the right, so has Perry. And in the last year, he's become a favorite among Tea Party supporters around the country. In the last two weeks, the governor has gone from ridiculing journalists' questions about a possible run for presidency to openly considering it.

Gov. PERRY: I'm going to think about it. I'm going to think about it.

GOODWYN: Perry is known as a fiscal conservative first and a social conservative second. But lately he's been making a concerted effort to burnish his social conservative credentials, like speaking in front of this group of conservative Catholics in L.A.

Last week he announced a day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium in Houston and invited the nation's governors to attend. For this event, Perry is partnering with the Christian advocacy group the American Family Association, known for its strong opposition to gay rights.

Professor BRUCE BUCHANAN (University of Texas): He's got access to the money, pretty good on the stump. He's got the kind of policy positions and track record that appeals to the Republican financers and the Republican primary electorate.

GOODWYN: Bruce Buchanan is a political science professor at the University of Texas who specializes in presidential politics. Buchanan wonders, could another Texas governor be elected president so soon after George W. Bush? How about a candidate as right wing as Rick Perry?

Prof. BUCHANAN: The Republican Party itself is right now trying to decide whether it wants to be a party that is ideologically pure or one that could have a chance to beat Obama. Perry thinks he can address that but I think he's going to have his hands full trying to address that, given his policy stances.

GOODWYN: The governor and the Republican-dominated legislature closed the state's $27 billion budget shortfall largely on the back of public education. In reaction, the governor has become a favorite of conservative talk show hosts around the country. Perry rails against Washington, D.C., painting the federal government as a source of evil, and even sympathizing with conservative Texans who might wish to secede.

Buchanan wonders if Perry truly would want to trade his good life in Austin for the big time in Washington, D.C. After all, it didn't work out so well for his predecessor.

Prof. BUCHANAN: Right now, everybody's eager to talk to him. He's a hero. He gets all kinds of publicity. This might set him up for a better chance to win in 2016 than any Republican might have in 2012.

GOODWYN: The smart money in Austin says Rick Perry will indeed soon throw his hat into the ring. But the political science professor from UT says that if he had to lay money, he'd bet against Perry in 2012 and instead double down on Perry for president five years down the road.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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