Texas Gov. Rick Perry is running for president, a spokesman confirmed Thursday, a move certain to shake up the race for the U.S. Republican nomination much to the delight of conservatives looking for a candidate to embrace.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the governor would make his intentions known on Saturday while visiting South Carolina and New Hampshire just as most of his presidential rivals compete in a test vote in Iowa.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to announce he intends to run for the Republican nomination. ((David J. Phillip/Associated Press))

Official word of Perry's entrance into the race came just hours before eight candidates, including Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, were to appear on stage during a nationally televised debate.

It wasn't much of a surprise. The longest-serving governor in Texas history has flirted with a presidential run since spring and has spent the past few months courting Republicans in early voting states and laying the groundwork for a campaign. He met privately with potential donors from California to New York and gave rabble-rousing speeches to party faithful, casting himself as a fiscally responsible social conservative.

His intentions became even clearer over the past few days when officials disclosed that he would visit an important trio of states, a campaign-like schedule timed to overshadow the debate and the Iowa straw poll and, perhaps, wreak havoc on a field led by Romney.

Unlike others in the race, Perry has credibility with the at-times warring camps of the primary electorate. The pro-business tax-cutter who has presided over Texas's recent economic growth also is a devout social conservative with deep ties to some of the nation's evangelical leaders and Christians who dominate the pivotal Iowa caucuses.

But Perry also has never run a national campaign before, and it's unclear whether his Texas swagger and contemplation of state secession will sit well with Republican primary voters outside his state.

Also an open question is whether he can raise the money necessary to mount a strong campaign against those who have been in the race for months or more.