DALLAS (AP) — Sounding at times like a tent revival preacher, Texas Gov. Rick Perry rallied the Republican Party faithful Friday with a stream of attacks on Washington, intellectual "elitism," tax hikes, unchecked illegal immigration and Democrats of all stripes.
Perry exhorted thousands of delegates gathered at their state convention, a giant partisan pep rally, to help re-elect him to an unprecedented third term. He said they would otherwise face the wrath of a greedy and power-hungry federal government.
"Texans of all political persuasions who are concerned about this egregious overreach of the federal government need to understand something," Perry said. "Electing my opponent will accelerate Washington's takeover of our state."
He was referring to Democrat Bill White, the former mayor of Houston, who gets his own convention spotlight in two weeks. White spokeswoman Katy Bacon said Perry helped create a massive budget hole lawmakers must address in January. She also took a swipe at the governor for renting a spacious West Austin estate while the Texas Governor's Mansion gets repaired.
"Even with an $18 billion budget hole, Perry refuses to stop draining taxpayers for a lavish rental mansion with a heated pool and one-and-a-half chefs," Bacon said. Perry has one full-time chef and one-part time chef at his rented home.
Perry dropped a few policy initiatives into his speech Friday, calling for constitutional restraints on tax hikes in the Legislature and stable college tuition rates for entering college freshmen. But the governor got his biggest applause lines from the conservative activist crowd when he hit on illegal immigration and voter ID laws.
Bringing delegates to their feet, he said employers who hire illegal workers should face criminal penalties and that he would push a law requiring voters to present better identification during elections.
The longest serving governor in Texas history shouted and punched his arms into the air as he skewered "unelected bureaucrats" and liberals "blinded by their intellectual elitism, their leftwing ideology and the worship of big government."
Perry had used that same angry populism to portray U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison — or Kay "Bailout" as his campaign once knew her — as a big-government-loving creature of Washington. But the two were all smiles Friday, when they shared a stage at a breakfast hosted by the Texas Federation of Republican Women.
Hutchison introduced Perry at the event, calling him the "personification of Texas" as she urged voters to re-elect him for another four years. Perry crushed Hutchison in the sometimes nasty GOP primary in March, but Hutchison used a little humor in the endorsement of her former foe.
"I had hoped that you would be introducing me," she told Perry. "But I can count."
She also said she had hoped to be governor "in the worst way" but instead wound up waging the "worst" campaign. Perry accepted the embrace form his old rival and thanked Hutchison for "fighting the good fight" in Washington.
The two-day convention, held every even-numbered year, has brought about 12,000 delegates to Dallas who will adopt a platform, select party leaders and hold training sessions for volunteers.
The heavily scripted and tightly organized convention began Friday at noon with prayers, video tributes and a lot of country music, including a video featuring the pro-war song "Have You Forgotten" by Darryl Worley. Confetti and streamers lent a festive air to the gathering at the Dallas Convention Center as Perry wrapped up his speech and then exited the stage holding hands with his wife, Anita.
It's not all pomp and pageantry. Republican Party Chairman Cathie Adams faces a challenge for her post during official convention proceedings Saturday. The opponents who want a two-year term at the helm of the party, retired Houston lawyer Steve Munisteri and Amarillo businessman Tom Mechler, are making an issue of the party's finances, namely its $500,000 debt. Critics say the party should be in better financial shape.
Texas Republicans currently hold all statewide offices and have majorities in both houses of the Texas Legislature.
Another potential flashpoint includes a debate over what the party platform ultimately will say about immigration policies. Some are pushing to add language in the platform calling for an Arizona-type immigration law, directing police to question the legal status of people who get arrested. Perry already has criticized the law.
Delegates also could advocate abolishing a Texas law, which Perry supports, allowing certain illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates.