Rick Perry
David J. Phillip  /  AP
Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks in Houston on August 6, 2011.
NBC News and news services
updated 8/11/2011 6:43:25 PM ET 2011-08-11T22:43:25

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is running for president, a spokesman confirmed Thursday, a move certain to shake up the race for the GOP nomination much to the delight of conservatives looking for a candidate to embrace.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner told The Associated Press that the governor would make his intentions known on Saturday while visiting South Carolina and New Hampshire just as most of his presidential rivals compete in a test vote in Iowa.

A source close to the campaign confirmed to NBC News that Perry will unveil his plans at the Red State Convention in Charleston, S.C.

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Official word of Perry's entrance into the race came just hours before eight candidates, including GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, were to appear on stage during a nationally televised debate.

It wasn't much of a surprise. The longest-serving governor in Texas history has flirted with a presidential run since spring and has spent the past few months courting Republicans in early voting states and laying the groundwork for a campaign. He met privately with potential donors from California to New York and gave rousing speeches to party faithful, casting himself as a fiscally responsible social conservative.

His intentions became even clearer over the past few days when officials disclosed that he would visit an important trio of states, a campaign-like schedule timed to overshadow the debate and the Iowa straw poll and, perhaps, wreak havoc on a field led by Romney.

Perry's nascent presidential campaign is not expected to rest after this weekend's launch. Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., confirmed that he's scheduled to meet privately with Perry next Wednesday. He also confirmed a separate meeting with the first-in-the-nation primary state's only Republican senator, Kelly Ayotte.

Neither has decided whom to endorse, but both have been courted heavily by the presidential field.

Story: Candidates hit hard in testy GOP debate

Unlike others in the race, Perry has credibility with the at-times warring camps of the GOP's primary electorate. The pro-business tax-cutter who has presided over Texas' recent economic growth also is a devout social conservative with deep ties to some of the nation's evangelical leaders and Christians who dominate the pivotal Iowa caucuses.

But Perry also has never run a national campaign before, and it's unclear whether his Texas swagger and sometimes unorthodox policy positions will sit well with GOP primary voters outside his state. Another open question is whether he can raise the money necessary to mount a strong campaign against those who have been in the race for months or more.

He may face fierce opposition from secular groups and progressives who argue that his religious rhetoric violates the separation of church and state and that his belief that some groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, should be allowed to discriminate against gays is bigoted.

Within the Republican Party, Perry has enemies among moderates who question his understanding of national and international policy, including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who ran against him for governor in a bitter 2010 primary race.

An early adopter of tea party rhetoric, Perry even has some opponents in the movement. They complain he hasn't taken strong enough stances on state spending and illegal immigration, in part because as governor Perry signed a law making Texas the first state to offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants and blasted a proposed border fence as "idiocy."

But before he starts pumping up supporters and wooing detractors, Perry will need to raise name recognition outside of Texas and conservative circles along with funds to fill a presidential campaign coffer. None of the money he's raised for Texas elections can be used in a national race, so he is starting from scratch.

The governor lags well behind previously announced candidates in both campaign workers and fundraising, mostly because he denied any interest in the presidency until late May. But the story he tells of having no interest in higher office until friends and family persuaded him to join the race adds to his carefully cultivated image as a Texas cowboy reluctantly riding into Washington to save the day.

Story: Iowa could make, break 2012 hopefuls

The campaign will attempt to position Perry between the moderate Romney and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a tea party favorite.

Perry, who has been governor for 11 years, has touted his business-friendly job-creation skills in Texas as evidence of fiscal wisdom, giving him a chance to drain support from Romney, whose conservative record is burdened by the health care plan he implemented as governor of Massachusetts.

Social conservatives already support Perry in equal numbers to Bachmann, who never has held an executive office and who some Republicans consider too far right to beat President Barack Obama.

In polls conducted before he joined the race, Perry was in a statistical tie with Bachmann and within striking distance of Romney.

A career politician with 27 years in elected office, Perry calls his economic track record in Texas a model for the country, arguing that low taxes, little regulation and tough lawsuit restrictions help create jobs and attract business. Texas has fared better than most states during the Great Recession, though it has the highest rate of uninsured residents and among the poorest populations in the country.

Perry is a full-throated critic of both Democratic and Republican politics in Washington, advocating a weaker federal government with smaller entitlement programs and greater states' rights. He recently signed a pledge to cut spending, place a cap on future government expenses and balance the budget.

Story: Romney in shouting match with crowd at Iowa fair

The Texas governor's office, however, is designed to be weak. Voters elect top state executives and all judges, and the Legislature drafts the state budget and sets its own agenda. The veto is the only real power the Texas governor has other than appointing people to lesser government offices. But Perry has wielded all the power he could muster, using his power of appointments to commissions and university boards of regents to establish a network of loyalists who carry out his policies.

Democrats will highlight what they say are Perry's extreme right-wing beliefs, such as opposing the national income tax and the direct election of U.S. senators. States' rights is one of Perry's biggest issues, and he has said individual legislatures should decide matters such as gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana. Those stances could draw conservative opposition — unlike his well-known love of guns.

Perry last year told an Associated Press reporter that he carries a laser-sighted pistol while jogging, and that he used it to shoot a coyote that threatened his daughter's dog that came along one day for a run. Texans touted what they called a heroic act, and gun manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc. issued a "Coyote Special" edition of its Ruger .380-caliber pistol complete with "A True Texan" emblazoned on the side.

How such stories play on a national stage could determine whether Perry can secure the GOP nomination. He'll also have to prove he has the skill to put on a national campaign.

While Perry looks good on television and gives fiery speeches, he is less disciplined in one-on-one encounters where he has made comments like the one about secession. He also did not fare well during the one debate he agreed to in his 2010 gubernatorial race, appearing awkward while repeating talking points rather than engaging the other candidates.

NBC's Carrie Dann and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Video: If Perry joins race, what are his chances?

Photos: Rick Perry

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  1. Rick Perry, then the Agricultural Commissioner of Texas, applauds with other officials during a 1992 event for President George H. Bush, second from left. Perry began his political career in the Texas House of Representatives in 1985 and served three terms before becoming the Agricultural Commissioner which he held from 1991- 1999. (Marcy Nighswander / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. President-elect George W. Bush gets a hug from Texas Lt. Gov. Rick Perry following his resignation announcement in December 2000. Perry was sworn in as governor of Texas later that day. (Paul Buck / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Perry married his childhood sweetheart, Anita Thigpen, at left, in 1982. They have two children, daughter Sydney and a son, Griffin, at right. (Harry Cabluck / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Perry fields questions about the planned Trans Texas Corridor in 2002. The 145 billion-dollar program that would have added highways, rail and data lines was criticized for being a 'land grab' and a potentially lucrative deal for the privately owned company Cintra. After much debate, the project was killed in 2010. (D.J. Peters / Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. President George W. Bush takes the stage to address a Republican fundraiser for Perry in June 2002 in Houston. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Perry debates Democrat Tony Sanchez during the 2002 governor's race. Perry easily won the election, his first of three. (Tony Gutierrez / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Perry (center) attends a memorial service for the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia. NASA Mission Control lost contact with the Space Shuttle Columbia during the reentry phase on February 1, 2003 and later learned that the shuttle had broken up over Texas. All seven astronauts on board were lost. (Bill Ingalls / NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Perry, center, casts the votes on behalf of the delegates from his state during the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Perry signs an abortion consent bill in June 2005. The bill restricted abortion late in a pregnancy and required minor girls to get parental consent for an abortion. (LM Otero / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Perry announces a special legislative session in June 2005. He vetoed the state's $35.3 billion public education budget and called lawmakers back to the Capitol to finally find a solution to the school finance dilemma. In 2001, Perry set a state record for the use of the veto, rejecting legislation 82 times. By 2005, he had used his veto power 133 times. (Thomas Terry / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Perry outlines his border security plan during a news conference in June 2006. Accusing the federal government of failing the state, Perry toured South Texas, selling his $125 million state plan for "neighborhood watch" surveillance cameras and better-funded border sheriffs' and police departments. Perry has opposed the creation of the physical barrier along the Mexico-U.S. border. (Mark Lambie / El Paso Times via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Perry made national headlines when he issued an executive order requiring the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV), an anti-cancer vaccine, for sixth-grade girls starting in September 2008. Some conservatives argued that the vaccine promoted promiscuity and took power out of the hands of parents. (Harry Cabluck / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Perry attends a naturalization ceremony in 2007 where more than 1,000 Austin residents representing 85 countries took the Oath of Allegiance to become United States citizens. Perry supports the Arizona immigration ruling, the most restrictive anti-illegal immigration measure in America. (Taylor Jones / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Republican 2008 presidential hopeful and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani appears with Texas Governor Rick Perry during a campaign stop in Ft. Myers, Florida. When Perry joined the Texas House of Representatives in 1984, he was a Democrat and supported Al Gore in the 1988 presidential election. In 1989, he switched parties and became a Republican. (Daniel Barry / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain waits to speak with Texas Gov. Rick Perry in Round Rock, Texas, in 2008. Perry initially endorsed Giuliani for president but after the former New York City mayor bowed out of the race, Perry put his support behind McCain. (Ben Sklar / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Perry speaks appears on the screen at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. During college, Perry was a member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets and served in the Air Force upon graduating. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. President George W. Bush participates in a briefing on Hurricane Ike damage with Perry in 2008. The storm resulted in the largest evacuation of Texas in the state's history. Later, during Hurricane Rita in 2005, Perry ordered contraflow lane reversal on several major highways to aid in the evacauation. (Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Perry speaks to the crowd during a "Don't Mess With Texas" tea party rally in Austin in April 2009. He was criticized after he said after the event that Texans might want to secede from the United States. "If Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that?" he said. "But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot." (Harry Cabluck / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Perry listens as President Barack Obama addresses the Fort Hood community during a memorial service for the soldiers and civilians killed in a shooting rampage there on November 5, 2009. (Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison share a light moment during a Texas GOP gubernatorial debate in 2010. Perry easily defeated Hutchison in the hard-fought primary. (Louis Deluca / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Piper Palin and musician Ted Nugent appear on stage during a rally for Perry's re-election in 2010. A few weeks prior, Perry invited his friend and musician Ted Nugent to perform at his inaugural gala, where Nugent appeared onstage wearing a t-shirt with the Confederate flag, (Gary Miller / FilmMagic) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Perry, a strong supporter of gun rights, fires a six-shooter pistol during a promotional event with Texas Motor Speedway in April 2010. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Perry, center, sings his alma mater's fight song before an NCAA college football game between Texas Tech and Texas A&M, in 2010. A graduate of Texas A&M, Perry was a member of the "Aggie Yell Leaders", or male cheerleaders, elected by popular vote of the student body. (Dave Einsel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Perry embraces his wife Anita after being elected to his third term by defeating Democratic challenger Bill White in 2010. (Ben Sklar / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Perry signs copies of his second book, "Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington" during a stop in Tyler, Texas in 2010. (Jaime R. Carrero / Tyler Morning Telegraph via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, surrounded by his family, waves to the crowd after announcing his run for president, Aug. 13, 2011, in Charleston, S.C. (Alice Keeney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. During a televised GOP debate on CNBC, Rick Perry struggles to remember what three government agencies he had promised to shut down if elected president, as Teexas Rep. Ron Paul watches. Eight candidates took part in the 'Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate' at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, on Nov. 9. 2011. Later Perry admitted he had 'stepped in it.' (Jeff Kowalsky / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry pauses during a news conference in North Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 19, 2012, where he announced he is suspending his campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich. His son Griffin is at left. (David Goldman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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