Factbox: Republican presidential candidate Perry

(Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry has been slipping in opinion polls after leaping into the race for the Republican presidential nomination and immediately becoming the front-runner in August.

Tuesday night’s Republican debate in New Hampshire gives Perry a chance to put an end to a string of poor performances.

Here are five facts about Perry.

* An outspoken anti-Washington conservative, Perry, 61, was an early supporter of the low-tax, limited-government Tea Party movement. Known for longstanding opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, he is especially popular with social and religious conservatives, an influential part of the Republican base. But he has been hammered by rivals over some relatively moderate immigration policies and ordering young girls to be vaccinated for a sexually transmitted virus.

* Perry has never lost an election and is the longest-serving governor in Texas history. A Democrat when he entered politics in the mid-1980s as a member of the state House of Representatives, he was the Texas chairman of Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign. He switched parties in 1989 and later was elected agriculture commissioner and lieutenant governor. He assumed the governor’s job in 2000 when George W. Bush left for the White House and won gubernatorial elections in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

* Perry sometimes draws comparisons to Bush, who left office with low approval ratings, raising the possibility of “Texas fatigue” in a general election contest against Democratic President Barack Obama. But Bush and Perry have had a sometimes antagonistic relationship, made worse by Perry’s criticism of Bush’s heavy federal spending as president.

* Perry is known for strong statements, some of which have caused him trouble. Older Americans became wary after he referred to the government’s Social Security retirement program as a fraudulent Ponzi scheme. In 2009 he openly pondered Texas’s secession from the United States, drawing questions about his patriotism.

* A rancher who earned a degree in animal science from Texas A&M University in 1972, Perry spent five years in the U.S. Air Force. He met his wife, Anita, in elementary school. They married in 1982 and have two children.

Editing by Patricia Zengerle and Bill Trott