TEXAS governor Rick Perry has surfed a wave of anti-government sentiment to the top of a crowded field of Republican presidential candidates.
Some polls show him ahead of rival Mitt Romney for the 2012 presidential race.
With the first state primary elections and caucuses still months away, the brash Mr Perry has drawn level with or passed urbane Mr Romney in less than three weeks since announcing his candidacy.
His stiffest competition came from fellow Republicans like congresswoman Michelle Bachmann.
Ms Bachmann, leader of the small-government, anti-tax Tea Party caucus of House of Representatives Republicans, won the important Iowa Straw Poll on August 13, but Mr Perry was already stealing her message by announcing his candidacy the same day.
Since then he has eclipsed Ms Bachmann and appears to be in a two-horse race with Mr Romney.
Mr Romney began a counter-offensive yesterday in Mr Perry's home state, telling the Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting in San Antonio that he was different from "career politicians."