Texas Gov. Rick Perry ridiculed Washington leadership Thursday on a whirlwind trip through California, positioning himself as a champion of limited government, states' rights and low taxes as he edges toward a decision on whether to enter the 2012 presidential campaign.
The Republican governor held a string of private meetings and events with members of Congress, conservative activists, CEOs and potential fundraisers who could become part of a national campaign. Perry is considering joining the wide-open GOP field and he has driven speculation that he will make a run at the White House with a busy travel schedule and attacks on Washington.
In Beverly Hills, Perry talked about the importance of states' rights and limiting the reach of Washington power in a closed-doors meeting with business leaders. Several dozen members of Orange County's Republican elite joined him later in Newport Beach, where he spoke about bringing more Hispanics into to the Republican Party and creating jobs.
Attorney David Fleming, a former chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce who attended the Beverly Hills event, said Perry also criticized federal environmental regulations and joked that his wife was nudging him to seek higher office.
Is it too late for Perry to get in the presidential money race, with a scrum of Republican candidates already jostling for dollars?
"It's never sewed up. It's an almost bottomless pit," said Fleming, a prominent Southern California fundraiser.
Perry did not disclose any decision on his possible candidacy, said several people who attended the events.
The trip is the governor's second to the nation's most populous state in less than three weeks.
A Perry spokesman said the two-day trip was not connected to the 2012 contest, though the tour was being seen widely as an audition for a possible presidential campaign.
The trip "is everything about politics. He's appealing to Republican activists and contributors in California," said Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. "It's pretty obvious his agenda is to test the presidential waters."
Perry, a former Air Force pilot, is the longest-serving governor in Texas history. He opposes abortion rights and is a favorite among social conservatives. He has been touting his record on job growth, but Texas legislators have been slashing spending as the state wrestles with a huge budget gap.
On Wednesday in San Diego, Perry called the federal government "rudderless" and said he sees a lack of courage in Washington.
Polls show Republicans would welcome new faces in the field that includes former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, pizza magnate Herman Cain, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
"There is a great deal of menu shopping by Republicans. Rick Perry would be the main entree selection," said Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel, who attended Perry's Orange County event but is not aligned with any candidate in the race.
Later in the day, Perry met privately with about 40 legislators at the Sacramento office of Republican fundraiser Jeff Miller. The Texas governor left the building through a side door, avoiding a reporter waiting outside. A spokeswoman, Kathy Walt, said Perry didn't have time to answer questions.
Associated Press writer Juliet Williams in Sacramento contributed to this report.