Students for Rick Perry has more than 500 Facebook friends, five national board chairs and 25 state chairs. It has a Twitter account and a YouTube account, where this week the organization made its first big move: releasing a highly produced video touting its preferred candidate. Less than a day later, it has been viewed more than 600 times.
"If/when Gov. Perry jumps in, he's got something to work with," says national chairman Justin Till, a recent Angelo State University graduate and former chairman of Texas College Republicans. "But I'm in a holding pattern pending any announcement. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself."
Started about two months ago, Students for Rick Perry was not the brainchild of a Texan but of a Georgetown University student in Washington, D.C., named Joe Knowles. Eventually, Knowles and fellow enthusiasts from states such as Vermont and New York went looking for someone from Perry's home state and found Till.
After graduating in December, Till worked in the office of state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo. That gig recently ended, and now Till finds himself — like many fellow recent graduates — looking for a job. "I'm one of those statistics," he said. "I'm feeling the same pain as everyone else."
Job creation is the issue that Till and other members think will most resonate with students. Though Till says he has followed the ongoing debate about the future of higher education in Texas closely, he says, "I probably won't be focusing on that." Till also doesn't have strong feelings about The Response, the prayer rally initiated by Perry. "We're pretty well convinced it's just the man Rick Perry, not the governor, connected with that event," he said.
Students in specific states might disagree on certain issues, such as Perry's stance on whether or not states can institute gay marriage, but they are swayed by Perry's economic record. "Job creation is the one thing the governor's got that no one else can claim," Till said.
Students for Rick Perry is not an official group in that its members are all unpaid volunteers, it hasn't filed any papers and is unaffiliated with any other organization. The group doesn't even have a website.
There are similar groups for other candidates, such as Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman, on Facebook and elsewhere (the numbers for Perry's group have already surpassed the others). Till said they generally have good relations. "We get along great and work together," he said. "Friendly competition I guess you could say." After all, he pointed out, eventually, they will have to unite behind one nominee.
Melanie Schwartz, president emeritus of the College Republicans at the University of Texas and current political director of the statewide Texas College Republicans, is preparing to head to Iowa to promote Perry during the state's straw poll in conjunction with Americans for Rick Perry, a political action committee unaffiliated with the governor's yet-unannounced campaign. She sees Student for Rick Perry as "more of an online thing" while, she said, "a lot of us in College Republicans are going to Iowa with the actual people."
Still, Schwartz said she was impressed with how quickly the online group has grown. "It's really great that people want to have an online presence showing that there are students who support Gov. Perry," she said. "Until he's officially a declared candidate, you can only do so much."