So how do the Texas rivals stack up?
The former governor and the freshman senator occupy similar ideological turf, as does much of the large GOP presidential field. They’re both pro-gun, pro-states’ rights, anti-Iran, anti-Obamacare, anti-Washington, fluent in the language of the tea party, and eager to scrap the IRS.
But they’re a generation apart and contrast in style. And those could be key factors if the two both survive to Texas’ primary in March, which could be a major event on the GOP nominating calendar.
Cruz, an Ivy League lawyer, has held elected office less than three years. He is a partisan pugilist, an agitator who has riled Senate colleagues in both parties from the outset.
Perry spent the last quarter-century in statewide office. He is an ex-Air Force pilot with more experience as a governor than any presidential contender in history.
“They’re both exceptional men,” said Texas GOP chairman Tom Mechler. “They’re both very popular in the state of Texas. It’s going to be an exciting primary season.”
Both would scale back federal power. Perry authored a states’ rights manifesto ahead of the 2012 campaign with an aide who later served as Cruz’s chief of staff. Both revile President Barack Obama’s policies on Israel, Iraq, border security and energy.
Both advocate a flat tax and would abolish the IRS, though neither has explained how the government would collect taxes — flat or otherwise — without the IRS or an agency like it.
Under Perry, Texas resisted Obamacare expansion and fought the administration in court. Cruz instigated a 16-day government shutdown with demands to repeal the health care overhaul.
Both plan a busy first day as president, and they would do similar things.
“The very first thing I intend to do on the first day is rescind every single unconstitutional or illegal executive action from President Obama,” Cruz said the day he opened his Houston campaign headquarters.
That pretty much sums up the long to-do list Perry laid out in his campaign announcement Thursday in Addison, along with approving the Keystone XL pipeline and rescinding any nuclear deal Obama signs with Iran.
“Texas has two strong candidates,” said Alfonso Aguilar, director of the Latino Partnership program at the conservative American Principles in Action group and chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship under President George W. Bush.
But, he added: “Rick Perry inspires people. Ted Cruz annoys people.”
On immigration, Aguilar credits Perry for embracing the idea of a guest-worker program and entertaining the idea of legal status for millions of immigrants once the border is secure. Cruz takes a tougher line, preferring to focus almost entirely on security.
Compared with Perry, Aguilar said, “Cruz has a Latino problem, and it’s ironic, because he is Latino.”
But at the moment, Perry would barely make the cut for the first two GOP debates, which will include only the 10 leading contenders in national polls.
The debates would be a crucible for both Texans.
After his “oops” moment in a debate during the 2012 campaign, Perry wouldn’t survive another major flub. Cruz has a different problem, as a Princeton debate champ and veteran Supreme Court advocate: high expectations. And in presidential debates, quick wit is less vital than projecting gravitas, which comes more naturally to Perry.
“You want to appear confident and not arrogant,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas Republican strategist.
He sees strengths and vulnerabilities for both.
Cruz’s lack of experience is a factor. Perry and others routinely note that Obama also was a first-term senator before he became president.
But there’s a bigger hurdle for Cruz.
“There’s a sense among the party elite that he’s not electable,” Mackowiak said. “Does Cruz as nominee put Pennsylvania in play? I don’t think so. Does Perry? Maybe.”
The path ahead
Roughly speaking, the GOP field has brackets, like a basketball tournament.
Cruz is on a collision course with Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum and others courting evangelicals. He’ll wrestle for tea party backing with Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.
Perry’s base is somewhat less defined. He’s acceptable to most evangelicals. But he’s also competing with the likes of Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
“The path for both of them is through Iowa and South Carolina,” where conservatives dominate the GOP nomination contests, “but they compete for different voters,” Mackowiak said of the Texans.
Then there are the stylistic contrasts. Take the uproar over Operation Jade Helm 15.
Amid far-right warnings that the eight-week, seven-state military exercise is a prelude to martial law, Perry positioned himself as a voice of reason.
“You know, our military is quite trustworthy,” he said a month ago, after his successor, Gov. Greg Abbott, ordered the Texas militia to monitor federal troop activities. “Civilian leadership — you can always question that, but not the men and women in uniform.”
Cruz seemed less eager to challenge the anti-government sentiment.
“When the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don’t trust what it is saying,” Cruz said.
Their political interaction has been limited: Perry backed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the 2012 primary that catapulted Cruz to the Senate.
But they’ve shadowboxed as the 2016 race loomed.
“Nothing drives me crazier than politicians who run around talking about the jobs they’ve created. Politicians are very good at killing jobs, but they don’t create jobs,” Cruz said of Perry this time last year.
Perry has criticized Cruz for instigating the government shutdown in 2013, calling the episode a sign of dysfunction in Washington and making clear he sees Cruz as part of the problem.
“Leadership is not a speech on the Senate floor,” Perry said Thursday. A campaign video includes another thinly veiled shot.
“A lot of candidates will say the right things,” he says in the video. “Whether it’s about the border, whether it’s about taxes, whether it’s about spending. But we need a president who has done the right things. We need a president who bridges the partisan divide rather than widens it.”