By John Whitesides
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry looked and sounded like a White House contender on Saturday, delivering a fiery condemnation of President Barack Obama and Washington to a crowd of Republican activists chanting "Run, Rick, Run."
Perry, who says he is thinking about jumping into the 2012 presidential race, said Obama and the federal government was stifling the United States with "too much spending, too much interfering and too much apologizing."
At the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Perry touted his staunchly conservative social views and pro-business economic policies, noting his record in Texas of creating jobs and balancing budgets.
"That mix of arrogance and audacity that guides the Obama administration is an affront to every freedom-loving American," Perry told the gathering of nearly 2,000 party loyalists. "They clearly think that they know best. I disagree."
Perry is among a handful of Republicans still considering getting into the 2012 race, goaded on by party members unhappy with the shape of the current field. He has been acting more like a candidate recently, traveling the country to give speeches and raise his profile.
But his speech at the New Orleans conference, which featured appearances by five declared Republican candidates, was his most high-profile flirtation with the race for a nominee to challenge Democrat Obama in 2012.
Perry, who took over as governor in Texas when George W. Bush moved to the White House and is in his fourth term, said social conservatives have been too quick to surrender in battles over abortion rights and other hot-button issues.
"It saddens me when sometimes my fellow Republicans duck for cover under pressure from the left," he said.
A staunch critic of federal power and regulations, he also said that Washington would never give up power until "the American people get up and demand reform."
The crowd of curious activists gave Perry a standing ovation, and many chanted "Run, Rick, Run."
As a conservative governor from the South, the party's regional stronghold, he would enter the race with some clear advantages. The Texas economy has defied national trends and led the country in job growth.
But he also is certain to be tied to Bush and face criticism for saying at a Tea Party rally that Texas might be better off seceding from the United States.
Perry's name was not on the ballot for a straw poll of presidential preferences at the annual conference, which was easily won by Representative Ron Paul.
Paul, Representative Michele Bachmann, former Senator Rick Santorum, businessman Herman Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich spoke to the conference.
But many of those attending the gathering were intrigued by Perry's potential candidacy. More than 100 people lined up to get his signature at a book signing before the speech.
"If he decided to run he would be one I would consider supporting him. There's plenty of room for him and it's not too late," said Carroll Kroeger, 85, of Franklin, Tennessee.
"He has an excellent record for creating jobs and attracting businesses," he said.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)