By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a social conservative who once joked his job consists of "getting up in the morning, suing Barack Obama, then going home," announced on Sunday he would seek his party's nomination for governor.
Abbott's announcement came after three-term Governor Rick Perry, who unsuccessfully sought the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, said last week he would not seek re-election.
"When it comes to our freedom and our future, I will never, never stop fighting," Abbott told several hundred cheering supporters at an outdoor rally on a humid afternoon.
Supporters fanned themselves with yellow cardboard fans distributed by the campaign that were emblazoned with the message "fast cars, firearms, and freedom, it's a Texas thing." Many wore yellow t-shirts featuring the campaign symbol, a snake wound around the letter "A" under the words, "Don't Tread on Me."
Abbott has filed 27 federal lawsuits challenging Obama administration policies related to gun rights, health care, Environmental Protection Agency mandates and other issues. He cited his legal activism as a qualification for the job of governor.
"The very day the president signed Obamacare into law, I took him to court to protect our constitutional rights," Abbott said. "I know the Constitution. I have enforced the Constitution, suing an overreaching federal government."
Among the endorsements for Abbott read at the rally was a statement from Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz Of Texas. The Tea Party favorite served as Abbott's solicitor general, an appointed position, before being elected to the Senate last year.
"Abbott is a leader in the fight for liberty and for the Constitution," Cruz said in the statement.
Abbott enters the race a clear front-runner, according to Mark P. Jones, a political analyst at Rice University. He has $23 million in his campaign war chest, and raised $4.78 million in the month of June, the largest amount ever raised for a statewide candidate in the 30 days after the end of the legislative session.
"Greg Abbott is a stronger candidate against any Democrat than Rick Perry would have been, because he doesn't have the baggage that Rick Perry had," Jones said. "The chances of any Democrat winning against Greg Abbott are less than zero."
No Democratic candidate has surfaced for the 2014 election. In 1990, Ann Richards was the last Democrat to be elected Texas governor. And 1994 was the last year any Democrat was elected to statewide office.
Democratic state senator Wendy Davis, who recently filibustered a Republican bill curtailing abortions, has said she is considering a run.
Another Republican, former Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Pauken has thrown his hat into the ring.
Twenty-nine years ago, Abbott back's was broken when he was hit by a tree while he was jogging as a young lawyer in Houston. Abbott lost the use of his legs.
During Sunday's announcement, Abbott said that incident taught him "the meaning of the word perseverance."
"Doctors then inserted two steel rods up and down my vertebrae that will remain in my back from the rest of my life," Abbott told the crowd. "Some politicians talk about having a spine of steel," he joked, "I actually have one."
Texas and national Democrats reacted to Abbott's announcement by calling the Texan out of touch with voters.
"Greg Abbott's entrance into the race for Governor of Texas is another step backward for a national Republican Party trying to gain relevance outside of its narrow, right-wing base," the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.
(Editing by Nick Carey and Stacey Joyce)