ROUND ROCK, Texas - Rick Perry acknowledged Monday that he's not used to losing but also vowed "I'm not slipping off into the sunset" while promising to battle federal energy and environmental policies he says would cost Texas jobs.
Making his first speech in his home state since abandoning his foundering presidential run nearly three weeks ago in South Carolina, the governor invoked his alma matter, Texas A&M, saying "all Aggies have a really interesting way of admitting defeat. You know, we've never been outscored, we just ran out of time.
"The fact is I'm really not used to running out of time," Perry said, "but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world."
Perry had never lost an election, an unbeaten streak that had stretched back to 1984, when he won a Texas House seat as a Democrat. He switched parties and captured his first statewide post as agricultural commissioner before being elected lieutenant governor, ascending to the governorship when George W. Bush left for the White House in December 2000 and winning election to three full, four-year terms.
He said America could not afford another four years of the Obama administration's "misguided, socialist policies" and that conservatism "is bigger than any one man."
"And let me add this: I'm not slipping off into the sunset," Perry said. "We've got plenty of work to do right here in the state of Texas. I've got plenty of fight left in this old 61-year-old body."
Perry appeared loose and confident regaining a trace of the swagger that so eluded him while running for president as he spoke for 31 minutes at a Williamson County Republican Party dinner in Round Rock, north of Austin. The adoring crowd of about 400 gave him a standing ovation as the emcee thanked him and his wife, Anita, for their "sacrifices" in recent months.
"I don't know what y'all have been doing for the last six months," Perry joked, "but I think you kind of know what I've been up to."
Perry entered the race late, announcing he was vying for the presidency Aug. 13 but had no trouble zooming to front-runner status. A series of debate flubs and increasingly embarrassing public gaffes caused his popularity to plummet, however, and he dropped out before the South Carolina primary.
During an interview with Fox News earlier Monday, Perry acknowledged, "looking back now, we would have gotten into this race substantially sooner."
"I haven't left the fight," he told the network, "I just went home and rearmed and reloaded my mags, and I'm going to be fighting on a different front."
Perry was equally defiant in front of the home-state crowd, saying he wouldn't let Texas lose its "title of best job-creation place in the world." He said that a relaxed regulatory climate and business-friendly policies statewide have kept the private sector humming.
"Our policies are working. Our unemployment rate has been below the national average for the last five years. Our sales tax has risen for the last 20 months," Perry said, noting that 700,000 workers have joined the Texas workforce since the summer of 2008.
"You don't raise taxes," he said. "I always get a charge out of these who say, `Oh, you've got to raise taxes.' No, you don't. They're not coming from Florida and California and other states because they want to pay more taxes."
He noted that Texas isn't afraid to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over federal anti-pollution regulations and chided President Barack Obama for nixing the Keystone pipeline project, which would have carried tar sands oil from western Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Perry also said Texas must strengthen its schools. Last summer, the state Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education over the next two years, after Perry made it clear he did not want lawmakers tapping the Texas Rainy Day Fund to fill budget gaps.
"Some will try to measure the quality of our education and our schools solely on the amount of dollars that they send to the school," he said, "but ultimately success is about the results that we get."