Profile: Rick Perry
To his supporters, he was the man who fixed Texas and can answer the country's economic prayers.
But to his detractors, Texas Governor Rick Perry was a dim bulb in cowboy boots whose softness on illegal immigration and pay-to-play statehouse politics make him unfit for America's highest office.
The Texas governor ticked many of the boxes on the party's wishlist. He's a socially conservative Christian with a record of cutting spending, who could boast that he restored to health the finances of the second largest state in the US, without raising taxes.Humble childhood
From Democrat to Republican
- March 1950: Born in Paint Creek, Texas
- 1972: Graduated from Texas A&M University
- 1972-77: Spent five years in the US Air Force
- 1982: Married childhood sweetheart Anita Thigpen
- 1984: Entered political life when elected to the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat
- 1988: Chairman of the Al Gore campaign in Texas
- 1989: Joined Republican Party
- 1998: Lieutenant Governor
- 2000: Governor when GW Bush president
Like the Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, he married his childhood sweetheart and has the kind of chiselled looks made for Mount Rushmore.
But unlike the Massachusetts millionaire, he had a personal narrative that millions of Americans could relate to - a humble childhood on a Texan cotton farm.
Mr Perry entered the race relatively late in August. Voters greeted him as a conservative alternative to Mr Romney, and he immediately soared to the top of the polls and began hauling in campaign cash.
His candidacy then suffered a series of miserable debate performances, including one in which he was unable to recall the name of a US government agency he would eliminate if elected.
After poor showings in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, Mr Perry withdrew from the race.'Pay-to-play' criticised
Mr Perry began his political career as a conservative Democrat in the state legislature before switching parties and running for statewide office. He served as state agricultural commissioner and lieutenant governor under then-Governor George Bush, whom he succeeded in 2000.
Since then, Mr Perry has been re-elected three times and, critics say, has enforced a hard nosed, pay-to-play culture in the state capital, in which groups and business who want something from state government must contribute to his political efforts.
Although his small government mantra is standard fare for Republicans, Mr Perry could point to his 10 years in charge in Texas, where he closed the state's budget deficit and continues to implement huge and controversial cuts to spending.'Job creation'
Mr Perry sought to run on a record of job creation and fiscal discipline in Texas, potentially attractive accomplishments to an electorate that is deeply anxious about the economy and the government's budget deficit.
Perry v Bush
"Perry is Bush on steroids. There are similarities, in terms of his Texan swagger and folksy speaking style, but the difference is that Perry is more conservative than Bush and more confrontational.
"Perry is a real cowboy, born in a little ranch in western Texas. George Bush was born in Connecticut.
"Perry went to Texas A &M univ, George Bush went to Harvard and Yale. George Bush sometimes wears cowboy boots, sometimes wears shoes. I've never seen Rick Perry out of cowboy boots except when he's jogging."
Wayne Slater, Dallas Morning News
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data reported in the Wall Street Journal, 37% of new jobs created since the end of the recession in June 2009 have been in Texas.
But there are different ways you can look at his record.
Technically, the state budget is balanced but there are billions of dollars of unpaid bills, says Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, who has followed Mr Perry for 21 years.
And many of the new jobs are low-wage. More people are uninsured than any other state in the country and the de-regulation of business which is attractive for investment has increased pollution.'Caricature'
Some analysts wondered whether the US was ready for another Texan president, so soon after George W Bush, who ended his second term deeply unpopular, even in his own party.
Where Perry stands
- For: Spending cuts, states' rights, climate change scepticism, death penalty, immigration that fills gaps in labour market, gun rights
- Against: Tax increases, federal powers, Obama healthcare, gay marriage, abortion (with exceptions)
"It's not just Bush fatigue but he will seem a bit of a caricature to some voters," says Mr Slater. But the question this year is that, with an electorate anxious for someone to steady our economic problems, could they overlook this if he presents himself successfully as the guy who can do it?"
There are several reasons why the independent voters who usually decide elections may pause for thought before backing the 61-year-old Methodist.
In Texas, he vetoed a ban on putting to death convicts found to be "mentally retarded" and there have been more than 200 executions during his governorship.
On one occasion he made comments that seemed to endorse the movement in Texas to break away from the union. And he once said that he shot a coyote while out jogging, using a semi-automatic Ruger handgun that he was carrying at the time.Early peak?
He is ultra-conservative, says Peter Fenn, a Democratic strategist, and it's a sign of desperation with the current lacklustre field of candidates that they are suddenly looking to Rick Perry.
"Right now this is all about Republicans looking for their knight on a white horse and Perry is a reaction to that and to 'none of the above'."
Mr Perry could be like Rudy Giuliani in 2007, who peaked the moment he announced he was running, says Mr Fenn, who believes Mitt Romney is still the most likely Republican nominee.
The Texan governor will face obstacles in appealing to America's political centre if he does win the Republican primary.
But Mr Slater says the White House would be foolish to dismiss him as an extremist.
"Rick Perry has been underestimated ever since he was a young legislator running for Texas and he's never lost an election.
"If Obama underestimates this guy, it will be at his peril."