CHARLESTON, South Carolina — (DMN/CBS News) – Texas Governor Rick Perry announced his bid for the 2012 Republican nomination here Saturday with a speech grounded in attacks on President Obama for “downgrading” America. “I declare to you today as a candidate for President of the United States,” Perry told a friendly crowd in South Carolina, host to the nation’s third presidential primary. Perry enters the race as a serious contender for the nomination, one with the potential to combine establishment support (and the strong fund-raising that comes with it) with the backing of social and fiscal conservatives.

Stylistically reminiscent of another Texas governor who sought the presidency – George W. Bush – Perry’s calling card is Texas’ strong record of job creation during his long tenure in the governor’s mansion. As Perry pointed out in his speech, 40 percent of the nation’s new jobs since June 2009 have been created in Texas. “It’s time to get America working again,” Perry said, arguing that “Recovery is a meaningless word if the bank has foreclosed on your home.”

While Perry spent some of his speech discussing his own record, he spent most of his time attacking the current occupant of the White House. He criticized Mr. Obama’s “unbridled fixation” on spending and suggested the president’s economic policies have “prolonged our national misery, not alleviated it.” “You cannot win the future by selling America off to foreign creditors,” he said. “We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership.” The time had come, he added, to “stop the generational theft.”

Change in America, Perry said, begins not with Washington but with the American people, “patriots who will not be consigned to a fate of less freedom in exchange for more government.” “We are indignant about leaders that do not listen and spend money faster than they can print it,” Perry said, complaining of “central planners” who “downgrade our future and micromanage our lives.” “I’ll work every day to try to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can,” he added.

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said after the speech that Perry’s “economic record is no miracle – it’s a tall tale,” a reference to the so-called “Texas miracle.” As Democrats are quick to note, many of the jobs created in Texas under Perry have been low wage. “Governor Perry allowed special interests to write their own rules, hired corporate lobbyists to oversee corporations, and cut funding for programs that would create opportunity for middle class families,” said LaBolt. “In a Republican field that has already pledged allegiance to the Tea Party and failed to present any plan that will benefit the middle class or create the jobs America needs to win the future, Governor Perry offers more of the same.”

In his remarks, Perry vowed to simplify the tax code, repeal Mr. Obama’s health care reform and curb government spending. He criticized Mr. Obama’s foreign policy as an “incoherent muddle” and suggested the president’s polices were based on “failed Western European social values.” “America is not broken, Washington, D.C., is broken,” Perry said. Perry made the announcement as many of his rivals were in Ames, Iowa, competing in the straw poll. The timing of the announcement was seen as an attempt to deflate any momentum to come out of the contest for Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty or the other contenders competing in the straw poll.

Americans for Rick Perry, which has been working on behalf of the governor in advance of his announcement, was working to get Iowans to write Perry in on the straw poll ballot. In one tent at the straw poll, a standing-room crowd, many dressed in Perry t-shirts, watched the speech, applauding throughout. One man said he got a call a few days ago from the “Perry campaign” asking if they could buy his ticket to the straw poll. He took them up on the offer and said he would write Perry in on the straw poll ballot. Perry travels to New Hampshire following his announcement speech and comes to Iowa on Sunday for a three-day swing through the crucial first-in-the-nation voting state.

Perry appeals to social and fiscal conservatives

Is Rick Perry the new white knight of the right? With Republicans expressing general dissatisfaction over the field of presidential candidates so far, Perry’s expected entry to the race is considered an effort to galvanize the divided political right behind a contender who can appeal to tea party and Christian conservatives as well as pro-business moderates. Perry, a devout Christian, succeeded George W. Bush in the Texas governor’s office and has held that job longer than anyone in state history. Now he looks poised to attempt to follow his predecessor’s lead a second time.

According to a new interview with Time magazine, Perry described himself as “very calm in my heart that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” Perry will deliver a speech on Saturday at a major conservative gathering in South Carolina. A Republican familiar with Perry’s plans told CNN on Thursday that Perry will announce his candidacy at the speech. His entry into the race will shake up the Republican field, putting Perry into direct competition with Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota for core right-wing support. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, if she runs, also would vie for that backing.

A new CNN/ORC International poll released Thursday showed 15% of Republican and independent voters who lean toward the GOP picked Perry as their choice for the Republican nomination. That put Perry, still a noncandidate, just 2 percentage points behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, considered the front-runner in the nominating process. Romney’s advantage over Perry is within the survey’s sampling error. Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University, said Perry’s appeal to both social and fiscal conservatives could be crucial in the South Carolina Republican primary, which every GOP presidential nominee has won since 1980. “He would appeal to tea party Republicans, he would appeal to the individuals who are interested in job creation in the state,” Black told CNN. “He can also I think appeal to evangelical Christians, and the overlap between evangelical tea party Republicans, economic development Republicans — those are a lot of voters in a South Carolina Republican primary.”

Donald Bishop, who spoke to CNN at the Fellowship Baptist Church in Lexington, South Carolina, said he likes what he knows so far about Perry. “I like what he’s doing economically in Texas. I like his stance, his belief in Christ,” Bishop said. To Democrats, Perry represents an uncannily similar opponent as Bush — both are Texans who portray themselves as straight-talking conservatives who cherish their Christianity and their country. In a sign that the political left is taking Perry seriously, comedian Stephen Colbert has already launched an ad through his tongue-in-cheek “super” political action committee asking voters to support Rick Parry — a deliberate misspelling of the governor’s name.

Perry said in the Time interview that the economy would be the top issue of the 2012 campaign and sounded pro-small government themes embraced by the tea party movement. The title of his book published last year says it all: “Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America from Washington.” His appeal to Christian conservatives also is clear. Last weekend, Perry delivered a Scripture-invoking, 10-minute talk at a daylong prayer and fasting event in Houston called “The Response.” Leading thousands of worshippers in prayer, Perry called on God’s help to comfort Americans reeling from the nation’s troubled economy.

In an apparent gesture to critics who have accused him of mixing prayer and politics, Perry joked, “God is wise enough not to be affiliated with any political party.” His conservative Christian identity considered a likely asset against Romney, who is Mormon. Asked about Romney, Bishop called him “a decent, clean, moral individual,” then added, “I do not agree with all his Mormon beliefs, but I would have no problem with him being …” His voice trailed off without completing the sentence.

Perry, 61, is a native of Paint Creek, a small farming community north of Abilene. A graduate of Texas A&M University, Perry joined the U.S. Air Force in 1972 and flew C-130 tactical cargo aircraft in Europe, the Middle East and the United States. After leaving the Air Force, he returned to Paint Creek to farm with his father. Perry married his childhood sweetheart, Anita, in 1982. They have two adult children. He began his political career in 1985 as Democratic state representative in a rural West Texas district. Perry switched to the Republican Party in 1989, and a year later, he became the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture, serving two terms.

Perry is Texas longest serving Governor re-elected to a third term last year.

In 1998, Perry became Bush’s lieutenant governor, and he graduated to governor when Bush became president two years later. Perry won election to a four-year term in 2002, and then re-election in 2006 and again in 2010 for an unprecedented third term. Jim Henson, director of the Texas Political Project at the University of Texas-Austin, said people in Texas just “seem comfortable with him.” “I think in a lot of ways he’s become by virtue of longevity and the way he’s used the office as probably one of the most powerful governors in the history of the state,” Henson said.

Mark Miner, Perry’s communications director, told CNN it’s understandable that many in the party want him to run because Texas, with its business-friendly climate, weathered the recession better than most states — including lower unemployment. “He is a conservative, fiscally responsible governor that has a successful record,” he said. “There is always going to be talk about him running for higher office because of success he has had.” The question is whether his conservative credentials will appeal to independents in New Hampshire — and those voting in the general election. “In a difficult economy, independents are going to be a little skeptical,” Henson said. “But I think it’s an open question on whether they’ll be scared of Perry.”

Reaction: Cornyn impressed, Obama camp attacks | Iowa straw poll an early test | Pundits weigh in on the announcement | Interactive: Road map to the presidency | Sarah Palin says she’s surprised | Campaign website launched

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