ROUND ROCK — Gov. Rick Perry declared Monday night that he still has "plenty of fight left" after his unsuccessful presidential bid, serving notice that he will work vigorously to continue his policies of fewer taxes and limited government as the state's chief executive while battling to defeat President Barack Obama in November.
"Regardless of the outcome of my candidacy, I know America's worth fighting for," Perry told more than 400 Republicans in his first major address since ending his presidential bid last month.
In what constituted a homecoming welcome in a Republican stronghold north of Austin, the 61-year-old governor received repeated applause and standing ovations as he reiterated many of the themes of his presidential campaign.
Perry communications director Ray Sullivan told reporters shortly after Perry's withdrawal from the race that he might consider running for re-election as well as another presidential bid. Perry made no mention of his political plans, but his speech often struck a campaign tone as he vowed to fight for grassroots conservative principles and oust Obama from the White House.
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"I'm not slipping off into the sunset," Perry declared. "We got plenty of work to do right here in the state of Texas. And I got plenty of fight left in this old 61-year-old body."
Perry, the state's longest-serving governor, rocketed to the top of the polls after entering the presidential race in mid-August but began an irreversible slide after subpar debate performances and other setbacks. He dropped out of the race Jan. 19 in the face of seemingly certain defeat in the South Carolina primary.
"Aggies have a really interesting way of admitting defeat," joked Perry, the first Texas A&M graduate to serve as governor. "You know we've never been outscored. We just ran out of time."
As first lady Anita Perry looked on, Perry called his first national campaign "just extraordinary" and said it gave him and his wife the opportunity to see "the faith and the greatness and the resilience" of the American people.
"I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world," Perry said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything I've ever done in 60-plus years of living."
Perry also signaled that he would work aggressively to help the eventual Republican nominee defeat Obama in the general election.
Perry has endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the leading challenger to Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, but he did not single out a specific candidate Monday night.
"We cannot afford four more years of this misguided socialist policy from President Obama," Perry said, contending that any of the Republican candidates who entered the race would do a better job. "This remains the most important election of our lifetime, whether I'm on the ballot or not."
A poll commissioned for the Star-Telegram and four other major newspapers showed that Perry's ill-fated presidential run weakened his home-state political base and hurt his approval rating. A majority said they didn't want to see Perry run for re-election, and many said they felt that Perry's candidacy hurt the state's image.
But Republicans gathered at the annual Williamson County Reagan Dinner extended an effusive welcome, giving Perry two standing ovations. "I'm glad to have him back," said Marsha Farney of Georgetown, a candidate for the State Board of Education.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst introduced Perry, saying "America is better for Rick going into the arena ... and trying to turn this country around." Dewhurst, a U.S. Senate candidate, campaigned for Perry in Iowa.
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