Washington (CNN) – If Rick Perry is elected President, he will be the second Texas governor in a row to do so. So it's natural that Perry will be asked the George W. Bush question time and again in the upcoming campaign: how is he different?
During Perry's run for re-election in 2006, Perry told a local PBS station in Austin it's perfectly fine to draw distinctions.
"I don't think that there is anything wrong with respectfully disagreeing with someone who I highly admire. I love George Bush. I think he's a great President and I support him," Perry said in the interview.
The question is still coming up to this day. Not whether he's running for president. But whether he's running from George W. Bush.
"Actually I called him on his birthday," Perry said to Time Magazine, fondly remembering a chat he had with the former President last month.
Perry insisted there's no bad blood with the man he replaced.
"Not from my perspective. And certainly not between George W. Bush and I," Perry said.
But go to YouTube and it's complicated. Four years ago while Perry was speaking on behalf of Rudy Giuliani's failed campaign for president in 2008, the Texas governor slammed his predecessor.
"Let me share something with you. George Bush was never a fiscal conservative. Never was. Wasn't when he was in Texas," Perry told a gathering of Republicans.
This was not an isolated incident. In his run for re-election in 2006, Perry ran an ad that blasted Washington on the issue of illegal immigration.
"If Washington won't protect our border, Texas will," the ad said.
He was later asked in that PBS interview in Austin which Washington he meant. The Republican controlled Congress or the GOP controlled White House?
"All of them. And the fact of the matter is every one is complicit in not addressing this issue. And it's not like we haven't asked them," Perry said.
Former Texas Democratic Congressman Martin Frost says it's all vintage Perry, a tough Texas political pro who should not be underestimated.
"Rick Perry is willing to say and do whatever is required. And if it means throwing George W. Bush under the bus, he'll do it," Frost said.
Frost argues Perry has a bigger Bush problem.
"If you close your eyes and listen to Governor Perry, he sounds like George W. Bush. He drops his "g's." He uses some of the same word choice."
They both grew up in West Texas. Both have ranches. Perry grew up on one in the tiny town of Paint Creek. Bush has Crawford.
But Perry has gone his own way in Austin to the satisfaction of the state's conservative voters. Re-elected three times in '02, '06, and '10, he is the longest serving Governor in Texas history.
James Henson, the director of the Texas Politics project at the University of Texas-Austin, says Perry governed to the right of Bush, slashing state budgets and courting tea party activists who can be sharply critical of the former President.
"All of that was an effort to rebrand, if you will, Texas as Rick Perry's Texas rather than George W. Bush's Texas. And looking forward to a possible national campaign, clearly Governor Perry is going to need distance from President Bush," Henson said.
Perry isn't the only one doing the distancing. When Perry ran for re-election last year, he lost the endorsements of President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney who both supported Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in what was a bitter primary challenge.
"We have no doubt Kay has the right vision and certainly the right values to help Texas build an even better tomorrow," former President George H.W. Bush said in his endorsement for Hutchison.
Perry won anyway.
Former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says any bad blood is not going to play out between "the principals," referring to Perry and his predecessor.
"I think at the staff level there's a certain tension between staffers for George W. Bush and Governor Perry's staffers," Fleischer said.
Recall that then-candidate Bush was often compared to his father. It's natural for closely-aligned politicians to create a little separation.
"Part of running for office is establishing your identity. Sometimes you reinforce that which came before you. Sometimes you differ and I suspect we're going to see both of those with Governor Perry," Fleischer said.
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