It’s Rick Perry’s Party Now

Whatever happens on November 7, the lieutenant governor will be the most powerful Republican in Texas. The trouble is, few voters know him—and he's yet to prove he's ready for prime time.
Why is this man smiling? Nominating Bush at the GOP convention puts Perry one step closer to the governorship.
Compiled by Wide Photos

National political conventions put on display not only the party’s first team—the nominees for president and vice president and other big names in American politics—but also the second team, those who will be the leaders of tomorrow. And so, on the first day of the Republican Convention in Philadelphia, a newcomer to the national stage appeared on television screens across America. He was tall and lanky, with dark, wavy hair, and lively eyes framed by crinkly lines that testified to long days spent under the West Texas sun. A rakish smile crept across his face to balance the hard set of his jaw. So perfectly did he represent the image of the rancher turned officeholder that he looked like an actor sent up from central casting to play the role. When he spoke, the inevitable twang in his voice was as broad as the Texas plains: “Mr. Chairman and fellow delegates, I am proud to nominate the current governor of the great state of Texas and the next president of the United States, George W. Bush.”Rick Perry had more than one reason to be proud—a friend’s success, a bit of state chauvinism, but also, for the lieutenant governor of Texas, the pure excitement of the moment when he himself began to step out from Bush’s shadow and claim his own place as the odds-on favorite to be the next governor. If Bush wins the presidency, Perry will serve the remainder of Bush’s term; if Bush loses, Perry, as lieutenant governor and leader of the state Senate, will have far more influence over the course of the 2001 legislative session than a lame duck governor. All of this must have gone through his mind as he basked in the euphoric applause that followed his nomination of Bush.

But this was not Perry’s only moment in the spotlight this summer. A few weeks before the Republican Convention, he made another appearance on television—one that was not planned, however, nor did it receive applause. It was a Department of Public Safety videotape of a routine traffic stop, aired on Texas newscasts around the state and on the Internet, that showed a cranky Perry emerging from his vehicle and complaining about being delayed after his driver had been stopped for speeding by a state trooper. The two summer videos present opposing, but equally compelling, portraits of Perry. In Philadelphia, he was a sophisticated, likable rising star with a great future. On the highway outside of Austin, he was a graceless, arrogant political neophyte who didn’t look ready for prime time.

Which one is the real Rick Perry? Although he has held statewide office for almost ten years—the first eight as the commissioner of agriculture—and was a state legislator for six years before that, few Texans outside politics and his home area north of Abilene know him well. His name identification hovers around 20 percent. His best work has been done in unglamorous and unseen roles: in interminable, suffocatingly detailed budget meetings or behind-the-scenes negotiations. The outlines of his career are fairly well known—Aggie yell leader, Air Force pilot, rancher, conservative Democrat legislator turned

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