MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris. For a while, it's been a strong possibility. Now, it is for real. Texas Governor Rick Perry is running for the GOP presidential nomination. He will officially make his intentions clear during a speech tomorrow in South Carolina. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has this introduction to Perry and his political career in Texas.

WADE GOODWYN: The plains of West Texas are harsh, flat, treeless and dusty with a sky so vast it is almost impossible not to feel diminished. Paint Creek, where Rick Perry grew up, is straight out of Larry McMurtry's novel "The Last Picture Show." Only Paint Creek, Texas, is a lot smaller town than Archer City.

RANDY DENSON: It's got a small school out there and, I think, two or three churches.

GOODWYN: Randy Denson is a rancher and owner and operator of the Cliff House Cafe in Stamford, Texas, just down the road from Paint Creek. Denson knows the Perry family very well.

DENSON: Rick, he's a little younger than me. I'd gone off to college when he was running around here. I'll tell you one thing: He's got a fine mother.

GOODWYN: Rick Perry's father was a dry land cotton farmer, which is often a desperate occupation. In a piece in Texas Monthly last year entitled "Boy's Life," Rick Perry said that the only time he saw his mother cry was when her brand-new couch was covered in dirt by a fierce dust storm that blew through the cracks in the house. West Texas was forever reminding you who's boss. In the magazine story, Perry said he spent a lot of time alone with his dog - a lot. Randy Denson.

DENSON: But in town, it was all right. But if you were a country boy, it was lonely.


GOODWYN: Then in the summer of 1968, Rick Perry was off to Texas A&M.


GOODWYN: Then in the summer of 1968, Rick Perry was off to Texas A&M.


GOODWYN: The future governor majored in veterinary science, but he was a lackluster student - lots of B's, C's and D's. After graduation, he became an Air Force pilot flying C-130 cargo planes. Rick Perry was gung ho.

BILL MILLER: He's a fellow who's kind of is a mission-oriented person. And being a pilot, I mean, that's what you're built for: You're built for mission.

GOODWYN: Bill Miller is a Republican political consultant in Austin. Miller says that after Perry left the Air Force with the rank of captain, politics beckoned. Rick Perry began his career as a conservative Democrat, but sensing the winds of change in Texas in 1989, Perry jumped to the GOP and won the race for agriculture commissioner. Miller says that was a gutsy play.

MILLER: You know, he is a risk taker. He sneaked in through the back door on the ag commissioner race when everybody else above him was losing their races.

GOODWYN: Perry has never been the kind of popular governor George W. Bush was, either inside the state legislature or with the general public. But his political instincts and his understanding of how power works has made him the most powerful Texas governor perhaps ever. After President Obama was elected, Perry thrust himself into the national spotlight by suggesting that while the national union was strong, if things kept on their current path, perhaps secession for Texas wasn't out of the question. It was actually a signal from Perry to the Tea Party that he was going to stand with them.

MILLER: It's easy to be dismissive of people who take risks and do things that are kind of out of the ordinary, and that was an out-of-the-ordinary thing for a politician to do. But, you know, when it works, you know, you look golden, and that's exactly the way he looks today.

GOODWYN: Miller also says Perry has been known as a fiscal conservative who was anti-regulation for banks, businesses and the oil and gas industry. But in the last few months, Perry has begun to describe the way he sees world events through the prism of the Bible.

Governor RICK PERRY: I think we're in a time of great revival in this world.

GOODWYN: In an interview with televangelist James Robeson in April, Perry saw the world economic crisis as a necessary trial that must be endured to teach a biblical lesson.

PERRY: To bring us back to those biblical principles, not spending all of our money, not asking for pharaoh to give everything to everybody and to take care of folks, because at the end of the day, it's slavery.

GOODWYN: Tomorrow, there'll be a new sheriff in the GOP race for president: one who knows how to raise big corporate campaign contributions, someone who will not let any candidate get to the right of him, and a man who, in more than two decades of electoral politics, has never lost a race. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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