Jan 3 (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry will compete in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday, which kick off the state-by-state race to pick the Republican Party's candidate to oppose President Barack Obama in the November 2012 U.S. presidential election.
Here are some facts about Perry.
* The 61-year-old has never lost an election and is the longest-serving governor in Texas history. He is considered a solid Tea Party candidate because of his staunch opposition to abortion and gay marriage, and support of limited government. He bills himself as an honest Washington outsider.
* Perry shot to the top of polls in August when he entered the race but fell back after a string of poor debate performances. In a November Republican debate, he forgot the name of one of three government agencies he has pledged to eliminate if elected president. He also called the Social Security retirement program a fraudulent Ponzi scheme. He now ranks either fourth or fifth in Iowa polls.
* Perry has come under fire from Republican rivals for moderate immigration positions and ordering that young girls in Texas be inoculated for a sexually transmitted virus.
* In an incident that has become famous, Perry said he shot dead a coyote that he felt had threatened his daughter's dog as he jogged on a trail near Austin in 2010. He said he needed just one shot from the laser-sighted pistol he sometimes carries to protect himself from snakes when he runs.
* At a December Republican debate, Perry compared himself to National Football League quarterback Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos, who has won several games this season with late comebacks after lackluster starts.
* In 2009 Perry pondered his state's secession from the United States. At a Tea Party event in Austin supporters shouted "secede" and Perry said Texas might want to "if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people."
* Perry was a Democrat when he entered politics in the mid-1980s as a member of the Texas House of Representatives and was the Texas chairman of Al Gore's 1988 presidential campaign. He switched parties in 1989 and later became agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor and then governor in 2000 after George W. Bush was elected U.S. president.
* Perry in August led a religious rally in Houston that put the spotlight on his Christian faith, offering a prayer for the nation. "Father, our heart breaks for America," Perry told a crowd estimated at more than 30,000 people. "We see discord at home, we see fear in the marketplace, we see anger in the halls of government. As a nation, we have forgotten who made us." Perry has sought to Christian conservatives who play a big role in the Republican nominating race.
(For complete coverage of the U.S. presidential election, see (Reporting by Lily Kuo and Deborah Charles; Editing by Eric Beech)