Texas Republicans: Rick Perry Leaving Governorship to Run for President

Tom DeFrank

Rick Perry is stepping down as the longest-serving governor in Texas history to clear the decks for a 2016 presidential campaign, according to several well-placed Republican sources. They said Perry is stepping down to make sure his declining popularity among Texas Republicans won't complicate his Oval Office ambitions.

Several Texas Republican sources told National Journal that despite Perry's insistence Monday that he hasn't decided on another presidential race, the governor has been passing the word for months he'll definitely run again in 2016.

But Perry was worried that his popular attorney general Greg Abbott could beat him in a 2014 gubernatorial primary, and that would cripple his presidential prospects months before he'd have to jump in. Abbott, 55, who has been confined to a wheelchair for nearly 30 years after a freak accident while jogging, instantly becomes the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination and succeed Perry as governor.

"Abbott won't announce for a while but he's been telling people he's running (for governor) and Perry couldn't take the chance Abbott could beat him," a top Texas money man said. "Nobody becomes president who just lost his last race."

Perry believes he can raise enough money as a former governor to finance a presidential bid despite giving up the huge leverage of incumbency.

"He's made a terrible miscalculation," said one prominent Texas GOP official whose ties to Perry have been rocky at times. "He thinks he's gonna be able to raise money as a lame duck. He's given up his biggest card.

"A sitting governor can say 'I'm the friendly incumbent -- don't make me unfriendly.' That's how you raise money - you can hold your office over the head of donors," the official said. Perry, a 1972 Texas A&M graduate who became governor when George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, believes that as the national GOP becomes more conservative, he has a strong chance to rebound from his ill-fated 2012 run. His candidacy self-destructed when he couldn't remember the third government agency he'd abolish as president during a Florida primary debate.

"Oops," he said, ensuring himself a spot in the pantheon of political bloopers.

Perry believes the "oops moment" isn't why he lost in 2012. He's told friends his biggest mistake was parachuting in late to the presidential race -- an error he won't make again. Leaving the statehouse in 2015, supporters say, gives him the preparation time he didn't enjoy in 2012 to be a more imposing candidate four years later.