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Rick Perry’s Exit Unleashes Texas-Sized Political Ambition

Gov. Rick Perry speaks during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting in Houston, Texas. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Rick Perry apparently knows when to fold ’em.

The Republican governor of Texas announced Monday he would not run for a fourth full term, despite it being the “greatest job in modern politics.” But Perry left open the possibility he would mount another presidential bid in an attempt to revamp his image following his disastrous first effort.

“I remain excited about the future and the challenges ahead but the time has come to pass on the mantle of leadership,” Perry said.

It was several minutes into the event, which reporters said remained a closely guarded secret until the end as to what he would do, before it was clear that Perry was announcing his retirement. He rattled off what he views as his accomplishments. He pledged his focus would remain on Texas and said that any future plans he “will announce in due time.” Instead, he said he will spend the next 18 months working to create more jobs.

Jay Root writes for the Texas Tribune that it’s the first open race for the state’s governorship since 1990, and that a Perry retirement from Texas politics unleashes “years of pent-up ambition” below him.

The move comes as Democrats are attempting to boost their own standing in the Lone Star State, and as the state legislature attempts to send Perry a measure banning abortions from being performed more than 20 weeks after fertilization. In his announcement, Perry said he’d call lawmakers back as many times as it would take to pass the measure, which was subject to a contentious hearing into the night. In the last week, Perry was criticized for mocking Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, thrust into national prominence for her hours-long filibuster to block the abortion bill.

Root writes:

Perry has 18 months left in his current term, so he’ll still have a huge political megaphone, appointment power and the ability to call a 30-day special session on any topic at any time. No one watching politics in Texas will be surprised if Perry makes full use of his authority and then some during his remaining time in office.

Friends and allies say Perry is energized by the abortion battle that propelled filibustering Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth to stardom and temporarily derailed legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks and dramatically tighten standards on the facilities that provide them.

Perry came under fire for his criticism of Davis — for making it personal by saying that her compelling biography would never have been written had her mother taken a different path and not had a baby. But the controversy over the remarks and the legislation has helped Perry garner attention for his cause just as it has for Davis.

During an appearance on the weekend TV show Fox News Sunday, Perry said his comments about Davis were “meant to be a compliment.” He also said the disruptions by people in the gallery during the abortion debate amounted to “mob rule,” and predicted the GOP-dominated Legislature would soon send him a bill to tighten abortion regulations.

NPR’s Liz Halloran found the day’s events to be a signal that Perry “clearly wants another shot at his party’s nomination.”

Perry’s 2012 chances faded after poor debate performances, most famously forgetting the last in a list of three federal agencies he would eliminate if elected as president. The “oops” moment defined his bid, but he did not drop out of the race until late January. When exiting, he endorsed Newt Gingrich.

On Monday, Perry told supporters gathered for the announcement that his decade-long tenure has been an “improbable journey” and said with emotion in his voice that “each day has been an honor.”

Dan Balz dubs it the opening of “a new chapter” for Lone Star State politics. He writes in the Washington Post:

With Bush in political retirement and Perry exiting the governor’s office, a new generation of Republicans looking to put their stamp on the party in Texas will begin to assert their influence.

One of them is U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who was elected just last year and has become a favorite of conservatives with his sharp-tongued pronouncements. Cruz has been mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, which could put him on a collision course with Perry and others for the support of the party’s most conservative wing.

Standing in line to seek the governor’s mansion and the mantle of top dog in Texas? Attorney General Greg Abbott and state GOP chairman Tom Pauken.

Here’s a profile of Abbott’s under-the-radar abilities, also written by Root.

Balz is keeping an eye on George P. Bush, a grandson and nephew of former presidents and son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who he notes is “beginning his political career by seeking the office of Texas land commissioner.”

With Democrats hungry to break into the Lone Star State and a wide-open field, expect a Texas-sized contest in the months to come.

Watch Perry’s statement in full here or below:


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Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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