“The time has come to pass on the mantle of leadership,” Perry, a Republican, said at a news conference in San Antonio surrounded by hundreds of supporters.
Perry, 63, is already the longest-serving governor in Texas history and has been the Lone Star state’s chief executive since December 2000 when George W. Bush left to become president. Perry’s departure sets up the biggest political shuffle in Texas since he took office.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a rising Republican Party star, has been making moves as though he will seek the governorship next year. He recently released a video, narrated by former senator-actor Fred Thompson, introducing himself to voters – even though Abbott has won statewide elections five times. Abbott also has amassed $18 million in campaign funds.
Perry left open the possibility that he would try again and run for the White House, saying “any new decisions” he will announce “at the appropriate time.” He recently rehired Mark Miner, a longtime aide who was one of the advisers behind his 2012 presidential bid.
The governor said he is focused on the next 18 months as governor, including a special session of the Texas Legislature. Lawmakers are considering a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy that would also close most of the state’s abortion clinics — legislation that state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat, recently filibustered to great attention across the country.
Perry announced his plans at a Caterpillar dealership owned by Peter Holt, one of his top financial supporters and the chairman and CEO of the San Antonio Spurs.
For much of the nation, Perry is known for his ill-fated White House bid last year. Once considered a top conservative alternative to eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney, Perry briefly was leading in early public opinion polls but faltered quickly.
His “oops” moment during a televised debate, in which he forgot the name of the third federal agency he wanted to eliminate, solidified for many that Perry wasn’t ready for the White House. The Texan dropped out of the 2012 race ahead of the South Carolina primary.
Perry had poked fun at his own debate gaffe on late-night TV and mocked his own candidacy during a speech last year. “The weakest Republican field in history — and they kicked my butt,” Perry joked at the Gridiron Club dinner.
Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Perry “loves to keep people guessing.” Making another presidential run, Jillson told USA TODAY, would require additional preparation.
“If he plans to run for president again, he needs to be free of the governor’s office so he can give his full attention to putting together a top-flight campaign team and prepare himself substantively, especially on foreign policy and national security issues,” Jillson said.
Before Perry’s announcement, some polls suggested the governor was slumping in popularity among Texas voters. A survey released last week by Public Policy Polling showed only 31% of voters think Perry should seek re-election next year, compared with 62% who think it’s time for him to step aside. He is among the most unpopular governors in the country, the poll said, with only 41% of voters approving of the way he does his job and 54% who disapprove.
Still, Texas Democrats will have a hard time unraveling the two-decade dominance of Republicans, who have built a well-funded campaign infrastructure across the state, said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
“The Democrats’ problems in Texas are much bigger than Rick Perry,” Henson said.