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The best presidential candidate not running?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

AUSTIN, Texas – There were more than a few non-Texans at Gov. Rick Perry’s inauguration ceremonies today.

Republican and conservative leaders from around the country were here – looking for a signal that the man who served longer as governor than anyone else in Texas history might have his eye on higher sites in 2012.

There were media from around the country, too, listening to an inaugural address that contrasted the nation’s economic problems with the growth of the Texas economy.

But the political story coming out of Perry’s swearing in and various church services, prayer breakfasts and intimate gatherings with supporters today was that he is still probably just the best Republican presidential candidate not running in 2012.

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While the consensus of those closest to the governor is that he is not considering a bid for the Republican nomination next year, at times his inaugural address seemed more national in scope than one exclusively focused on Texas.

“As we reflect together on all that has transpired since the icy cold of the last Texas inaugural, much has changed in our world,” Perry said, briefly offering what sounded like a state of the union address more than a state of the state speech. “While conditions have improved for our troops in Iraq, they have worsened in Afghanistan. Here at home, we’ve seen catastrophic events in the marketplace that have unleashed an economic recession unlike anything we’ve experienced in 70 years. The failure of major financial institutions led to tighter credit, massive foreclosures and staggering layoffs. Risky practices in the private sector were compounded by poor spending decisions in the public sector. With bloated stimulus spending, record debt and massive entitlement programs, Washington has America on a collision course with bankruptcy.”

Perry suggested it might be Texas’ destiny to lead the nation out of the economic morass.

“While Texas has fared better than most states, we have not gone untouched by this global recession, and we cannot forget those Texans who are dealing with the fear and uncertainty of joblessness,” he continued. “While much has changed in the last four years, one thing will never change: the character, resilience and resourcefulness of our citizens. Texans just don’t like the word ‘impossible.’ If something has never been done, it’s because we simply haven’t tried. We tamed the frontier, formed our own republic, discovered oil, pioneered space and transformed the marketplace. The first word spoken on the moon was, ‘Houston,’ a city whose namesake was not Texan by birth but Texan by choice like millions more who would follow.”

Perry went on to pledge that his next term as governor will be committed, like his previous eight years in office, to fiscal responsibility.

“With our nation mired in more than $14 trillion of debt, accountability and fiscal responsibility will not come from Washington – it will come from places like Texas,” he said. “Texas is still the engine of America’s economy, and we’re proud to lead the nation in Fortune 1000 companies, international exports and job creation. Those jobs are more than statistics – they provide wealth and opportunity for our citizens and families. The jobs aren’t just going to our big cities, but also to towns like Cuero and Seguin, where employers have relocated or expanded their operations thanks to the job friendly climate we’ve worked so hard to create.”

Some political consultants present at the inauguration suggested Perry might be taking an unconventional route to the presidency – making such a splash as chief executive of his state that he is all but drafted by Republicans in 2012. His address hinted at the expectation of historic accomplishments at the state level.

“Given our state’s economic success compared to that of other states and Washington’s ongoing irresponsibility, I believe Texas will lead the way out of this turmoil,” he said. “You might say historians will look back on this as the ‘Texas Century.’ Americans once looked to the East Coast for opportunity and inspiration, then to the West Coast. Today they are looking to the Gulf Coast – they are looking to Texas.”

Perry pointed to Texas as the “new, best hope for entrepreneurs and small businesses – the place where Americans can redeem their promise and fulfill their potential.”

“This is our time, this is our place in history. We must seize the moment,” he said. “We must plant the seeds of opportunity that bloom beyond our years. We must show the world the endless possibilities of freedom and free enterprise. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, and will say it a thousand more: there is still a place where opportunity looms large in this country, and that place is called Texas.”