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Weaver has a Candidate, but It's Not the Texan

You’d think the Aggie consultant would be working for the Aggie candidate.

Texas Governor Rick Perry talks about the Texas economy while speaking in front of a Boeing 787 airplane during the ceremonial bill signing of HB3727 in San Antonio on June 23, 2011.

You’d think the Aggie consultant would be working for the Aggie candidate.

John Weaver, a Texan and one of a class of political consultants who rose through Texas politics to national campaigns, is working for an anti-Washington presidential candidate who is touting his success as a governor in cutting state spending, reforming taxes and making his state a magnet for business.

But it’s not Governor Rick Perry, a fellow Aggie and West Texan, who has Mr. Weaver at his side. It’s Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and more recently, the former United States Ambassador to China under President Barack Obama.

This is the second time Mr. Weaver has a presidential candidate running against his home state favorite. He ran Senator John McCain’s primary campaign against George W. Bush in 2000. To be fair, Mr. Weaver was working for Mr. Huntsman before Mr. Perry’s name was in serious play. Mr. Huntsman said this week he is running for president. Mr. Perry said publicly he hasn’t decided whether he wants to be a candidate. You can argue with a straight face that the two are not competitors right now.

But they could be. Mr. Perry’s considering a run and doing absolutely nothing to dampen speculation that he could join the field of Republicans who’d like to live in the White House. And if they do, Mr. Huntsman will have the advantage — because of Mr. Weaver — of knowing more about Mr. Perry than Mr. Perry knows about him.

Mr. Weaver is from Kermit, an oil patch town in Winkler County where New Mexico elbows into the state. Mr. Perry is from Paint Creek, which is outside of Haskell, which is outside of Abilene. It’s about 250 miles from there to Kermit, but they’re both part of West Texas. Put it another way: If Texas exercised its prerogative to break into smaller states, Haskell and Kermit would still be in the same state.

Both are Aggies. Politicos and others who speak before Texas audiences know that if they say “Texas A&M,” some people in the audience will “whoop!” It’s corny, but consistent. And if they don’t know each other by their calls, they recognize the plumage: Lots of Aggies wear their class rings until they croak. Some, longer.

Mr. Weaver worked at The Battalion, A&M’s student paper, and started in politics working for Phil Gramm, a Democratic Aggie economics professor who was running for Congress in 1978. Mr. Weaver’s resume includes time with several Republicans including Mr. Gramm (after a switch), Tom Loeffler and Bill Clements. He was executive director of the Republican Party of Texas, headed the Victory ’88 effort to elect Republicans from George H.W. Bush on down in Texas, and worked in a similar ’92 effort. He went into national politics with Mr. Gramm’s presidential campaign in 1996, and then spent 10 years as a top political advisor to Mr. McCain. He lists Mr. Perry among the candidates he “helped recruit and assist” as a G.O.P. official in Texas.

Along the way, Mr. Weaver crossed swords with Karl Rove, a fellow Texas consultant, and after the 1992 election he turned to Washington politics while Mr. Rove was harvesting a bumper Republican crop in Texas. Mr. Rove’s clients — until George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential race — included John Cornyn, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and a Democratic convert who ran for state agriculture commissioner as a Republican in 1990, a state representative named Rick Perry.

The Weaver-Rove war reignited in 2000 when Mr. McCain threatened Mr. Bush’s run for the Republican nomination. Mr. Rove isn’t Mr. Perry’s guy anymore — the lead political consultant to the governor is Dave Carney of New Hampshire, and has been for more than a decade — and neither he nor Mr. Weaver play in state politics like they used to. Mr. Weaver was part of Mr. McCain’s early run for the 2008 nomination, dropping out when Mr. McCain reorganized the campaign. Mr. Weaver returned to Texas, but not to Texas politics.

He and Mr. Carney and Mr. Rove are part of a class of political consultants from Texas who pop up in conversations about presidential politics now — a group that includes Mark McKinnon and Matthew Dowd, who worked with Mr. Rove on Mr. Bush’s campaigns, and Rob Johnson, who ran Mr. Perry’s re-election campaign last year and who abruptly finished a short crash course in presidential politics this month as campaign manager for Newt Gingrich.

Two of them — Mr. Carney, who consulted Mr. Gingrich without ever dropping Mr. Perry as a client, and Mr. Johnson — will be with the Texas governor if Mr. Perry decides to run.

The governor’s fellow Aggie, however, will be on the other side.


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Higher education Griffin Perry Republican Party Of Texas Rick Perry Texas A&M University-College Station