Texas governor Rick Perry has ridden a wave of anti-government sentiment to the top of a crowded field of Republicans who want to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012, with some polls showing him ahead of rival Mitt Romney.
With the first state primary elections and caucuses still months away, the brash Mr Perry has drawn level with or passed urbane Mr Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and businessman, in less than three weeks since announcing his candidacy.
Mr Romney had been cruising atop the list of Republican hopefuls when his stiffest competition came from the likes of 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 in a speech to a conservative group in South Carolina, halfway across the country.
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 on Tuesday in Mr Perry's home state, telling the Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting in San Antonio that his vision for putting the US back on a steady course was, by definition, far superior to that of "career politicians".
Mr Romney did not mention his rival by name, but the message was clear. In his speech, Mr Romney pointed to his years outside Washington and in the private sector, saying they gave him a fresh perspective on how best to manage government spending.
Mr Romney's problem is that the health reforms he backed while Massachusetts governor became the model for the federal plan, and he is at pains to explain how he can want to jettison the national plan while having backed a similar one for his state.
He is also a Mormon, a faith that many conservative Christians - a big segment of the Republican electorate - see as a cult.
By contrast, Mr Perry slides in nicely on both fronts with his anti-government tea party message and his public profession of his Christianity - shown particularly when he sponsored a day of prayer in Texas, shortly before announcing his candidacy. The gathering sought God's help with the state's searing drought and putting the United States back on a godly course.