Portraits of Rick Perry, Muse of the Political Press

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In red states and blue, the governor of Texas is unsurpassed at inspiring purple prose

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On Saturday, Gov. Rick Perry is expected to announce that he's running for president. His bid is predicted to shake up the GOP primary. Maybe so, but voters are fickle. All we know for sure? As long as the Texas Republican stays in the race, he'll tempt journalists into deploying their most colorful descriptors.

Thus the Perry Prize: a new award given to the journalist who renders him most entertainingly in the interval that starts when he enters the race and ends when he withdraws from it or wins the presidency. The rules: the description cannot be offered ironically or purely for the sake of humor -- in other words, neither Wonkette nor "The Daily Show" is eligible. Some samples:

  • "Perry is fresh-faced and chipper, just as you would expect a former Texas A&M yell leader to be. 'He marches up to the lowliest employee, greets them by name, shakes their hand, and looks them in the eye,' says one staffer. 'He's as friendly as a puppy.' ~ Dana Rubin, Texas Monthly
  • "Perry, a former Air Force pilot with the rugged veneer of a 'Bonanza' cast member, sat unperturbed with a plastic bag full of popcorn in his lap and rhapsodized... today, in his ostrich-skin cowboy boots with popcorn tumbling down his shirt while talking up Sam Houston and Christianity and oozing sufficient levels of testosterone to detonate a Geiger counter, Rick Perry was doing a fine impression of George W. Bush on steroids." ~ Robert Draper, The New York Times Magazine
  • "The late Molly Ivins coined the nickname Governor Goodhair, and it has stuck, especially with liberals and journalists from up north. It is true that Perry has a much-remarked-upon coif, but don't let this lead you to assume that he's soft, or feckless, like that other recent walking shampoo ad, John Edwards. Perry is a hard man. He is the kind of politician who would rather be feared than loved--or respected." ~ Paul Burka, Texas Monthly
  • "Rick Perry hails from the West Texas town of Paint Creek--a long way from New Hampshire in every sense. He has charm, charisma and folksiness to spare. The governor is a well-known fitness buff with movie star looks and a friendly twang. In many ways he resembles a cowboy who wandered off the set of a John Wayne movie." Abby Rapoport, Texas Observer
  • "Yes, Perry wears more cowboy gear than a six-year-old boy on Halloween. Yes, he straps on his laser-sighted, hollow-point-bullet-loaded pistol whenever he goes jogging. Yes, he blew away a coyote that was supposedly 'menacing his puppy' and left the bloody carcass for other joggers to trip over. (No word on whether he scooped the puppy poop.) But however 'colorful' this sort of thing might appear from a Manhattan perspective, it is apparently normal, or nearly so, in the Lone Star State." ~ Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker
  • "Perry's style is very engaging. At times, he seems to act out virtually every word he speaks with his body. It's all totally natural, and something you just have to see to understand. Impersonators would have a field day with Perry if he were to actually become president, but in ways I suspect would only help him." ~ Stanley Kurtz, National Review
  • "Like all of them, he was younger then, although he has aged well, and he was handsome then as now - clean, all-American features, but none of the imperiousness in his glance then that we're used to today: Rick Perry, current occupant of the Governor's Mansion." Lucious Lomax, Austin Chronicle
  • "Is Rick Perry less electable in grandpa shoes than cowboy boots? ...Perry's aides have pointed out that the governor hasn't slowed his schedule at all post-surgery; so what if he wants to rock some sweet all-black kicks? 'He wears shoes that are comfortable,' an aide told the Times. 'It's nothing more than that.' It's exactly the image Perry is trying to cultivate: the badass, swaggering, take-no-prisoners, larger-than-life Texas Man who just wants to avoid bunions and achy arches." ~ Noreene Malone, New York
  • "Pistol-packing Texas Gov. Rick Perry has a message for wily coyotes out there: Don't mess with my dog. Perry told The Associated Press on Tuesday he needed just one shot from the laser-sighted pistol he sometimes carries while jogging to take down a coyote that menaced his puppy during a February run near Austin. Perry said he will carry his .380 Ruger - loaded with hollow-point bullets - when jogging on trails because he is afraid of snakes. He'd also seen coyotes in the undeveloped area." ~ Jim Vertuno, The Huffington Post
  • "That Perry, if he runs, would immediately assume the mantle of the most colorful male non-lunatic in the race was evident the other night at the Grand Hyatt, where he addressed a ballroom packed with attendees of the New York County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner. Critics in Texas like to call him Governor Good Hair, and indeed, his hair is good--maybe even, perish the thought, as good as Mitt Romney's. His vocal inflections carry loud echoes of George W. Bush, but his delivery is more animated (and even antic) than Dubya's ever was. Perry's ability to chop and serve raw red meat is on a par with Pat La Frieda's. Speaking of his home state, he allowed, 'There's a few unhappy people there.' A well-timed beat. 'Generally, we refer to them as liberals.'" John Heilemann, New York
  • "Rick Perry stands in opposition to inside the Beltway Washington elites, I don't care what party they are.  And he's got great hair.  Folks, we gotta put a picture of Rick Perry up on our website, if you haven't seen him.  It's axiomatic, you are not going to be elected president unless you've got at least a ten inch part in your hair, preferably 14-inch.  You can't be bald.  It's the same thing with television anchors.  You're never going to be a prime network news anchor unless you have a 14-inch part in your hair.  Well, in the television age there are just certain realities that you can't get around." ~ Rush Limbaugh
  • "...As he says this, he swivels around excitedly in his desk chair, the cuffs of his trousers hiking up to reveal a pair of cowboy boots emblazoned 'Liberty' and 'Freedom.'" ~ Kevin D. Williamson, National Review
  • "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." ~ Patricia Kilday Hart, Texas Monthly


Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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