Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott hasn't officially announced if he'll run for governor but is making clear that if he does, he'll be running to the right.
The Republican is looking to shore up a conservative, grass-roots base that could be pivotal if he ends up challenging Rick Perry in next year's Republican primary.
Abbott headlined last weekend's FreedomWorks Texas summit in Austin, rallying for gun rights, limiting federal government and various other top conservative causes.
"It's great to be with people who are rock-solid conservatives," he told the crowd.
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A national tea party organization, FreedomWorks is best-known in Texas for helping catapult Ted Cruz from a little-known former state solicitor general to an upset victory over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst -- the choice of Perry and the mainstream Texas GOP -- in last summer's U.S. Senate primary.
Cruz has caused a stir since arriving in Washington in January but made a surprise visit to summit, telling activists "we're winning and it's because of what you're doing."
Cruz worked under Abbott as solicitor general, and Abbott noted they remain friends. Abbott boasted of suing the federal government 25 times since President Barack Obama took office, describing his job as: "I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and I go home."
Perry plans to announce whether to seek a fourth full term as governor after the legislative session ends May 27. He also says Abbott has agreed not to challenge him should he run again.
The pair are friends and agree on a lot, but Abbott has not confirmed the pact with Perry. However, he has raised $18 million in campaign funds for a race that the Republican candidate is expected to win easily.
With FreedomWorks activists, Abbott talked of not losing faith after an oak tree fell and crushed his legs in a jogging accident, requiring him to use a wheelchair. He highlighted his beating back a push to remove the Ten Commandments from a monument on the state Capitol grounds, and to keep "one nation, under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Many of the loudest cheers came, though, when Abbott promised to defend the Second Amendment, noting that he wrote a letter to Obama saying he would file lawsuit No. 26 if a recent UN treaty gets ratified in the U.S.
"However bad it may be that the United States government may take your guns," he said, "far worse would be the United States of America authorizing the United Nations to take your guns."
An audience member asked Abbott about Facebook rumors Federal Emergency Management Agency officials was going door-to-door in an area damaged by the massive fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people in West and confiscating guns.
"If that's true it's completely reprehensible," Abbott said, adding that he may sue.
Perry didn't attend the FreedomWorks gathering where, as one panelist put it: "Our job is to move the Republican Party toward liberty." But America's longest tenured governor and the longest-serving governor in Texas history is no stranger to appealing to his party's most-conservative wing.
Still, Perry has called for tapping the state's cash reserves, or Rainy Day Fund, to finance key water and infrastructure projects -- and possibly to cover $1.6 billion in business tax cuts. Though the fund is projected to have $12 billion in its coffers if left untouched, such calls have enraged deficit-hawks.
JoAnn Fleming, chairwoman of the Tea Party Advisory Committee, which counsels conservative state lawmakers, told the FreedomWorks summit that Texas has been ill-served by its current GOP leadership. She said that, by some measures, the state has taken on more debt than the U.S. Postal Service.
Asked about Abbott's appearance, Fleming said it was short on substance.
"We appreciate that he's suing the federal government," she said, "but we need to hear more than `Washington D.C. is run by a bunch of crooks."'
Abbott, though, is burnishing his conservative credentials with more than just lawsuits. On Monday, he issued an opinion declaring that efforts by local governments in Austin, El Paso and Fort Worth, as well as the school district in Pflugerville, to offer domestic partner benefits to employees in same-sex relationships violated the Texas Constitution.
After New York state instituted strict gun control laws in January, he invited gun-loving New Yorkers to move to Texas. Then, in March, Abbott posted on Facebook depictions of a gun and the Bible, under the heading, "Two things every American should know how to use, neither of which are taught in schools."
Debra Medina unsuccessfully challenged Perry in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary and now chairs We Texans, a group promoting limited government and state sovereignty. She did not attend the FreedomWorks event but said Abbott would be a welcome alternative to Perry among many conservatives -- though some still see him still an establishment choice given that he's been in office since 2002.
"His policies seem to be more conservative than Perry but they are both men who have lived so much of their adult lives in public office," Medina said. "That's not good for the rest of us."
Many at the FreedomWorks summit said they hadn't decided who they'd back for governor. But it might have been a telling Freudian slip when Matt Rinaldi, a Dallas tea party leader, was discussing Perry's support for cutting business taxes.
"Governor Abbott is supporting that as well," Rinaldi said.
No one corrected him.