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Inhofe: Perry's 'the one'

TULSA, Okla. -- Sen. Jim Inhofe knew Gov. Rick Perry was running for president before Rick Perry did.

"I said to him, 'Rick, I know you'll deny it now, and you're supposed to, but you're going to end up running," Inhofe recalls from a conversation with 14 months ago. "And when you are, just call me up and give me a little advance notice and I will do whatever you think I can do to be of some help to you.'"

Inhofe, who yesterday became the first United States senator to formally endorse a candidate the 2012 GOP primary, told NBC News during an interview in his Tulsa office that Perry's gubernatorial experience, personal profile, and good looks made him a shoo-in to run even when the Texas governor seemed certain to turn down supporters begging him to jump in.

Naming his criteria for a Republican nominee -- electability and consistent conservative values -- Inhofe said the choice among the contenders was easy. "He was the one," Inhofe said. 

The Oklahoma Republican, who is one of the leading skeptics of human beings contributing to climate change, is also supporting Perry because of the governor's pledge to dismantle EPA regulations that both believe stifle job creation.

"He was willing to take on the sacred cows," Inhofe said, "and that is the overregulation" by the Environmental Protection Agency. "He wasn't afraid of it. Everyone else was afraid of it."

He added that the nation is turning away from the belief that climate change is man-made and must be regulated. "I think there's been a wakeup call to the American people," he said. "I think they realize that a lot of the science has been drummed up by people who have a financial dog in the fight."

That's a belief both men share. Inhofe said in the interview that "the vast majority" of scientists dependent on government grants "go along with the whole idea" of global warming to keep money flowing to their research projects. Perry, at a campaign stop in New Hampshire earlier this month, claimed there are "a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects."

Perry's skepticism about global warming would lead him to gut federal regulations geared towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which Inhofe says should be a pleasing proposition to deficit hawks.

"He'll attack [the debt] from the regulatory end as much as he will from the spending end," Inhofe said. "I haven't heard anybody else talking about that because they're afraid of the issue."

Perry would also support oil and natural-gas production in areas of the United States that are currently closed to drillers, Inhofe said.

"The fact that 83 percent of our public land is off limits is ludicrous," Inhofe said. "We can't sit around and talk about how we want to do something about our dependency on the Middle East and not go ahead and get our own stuff. That's what he wants to do."

Inhofe, who endorsed early-conservative-darling-turned-flameout Fred Thompson during the last presidential cycle, sees one key difference between Thompson and Perry.

"Fred's lazy," Inhofe said. "And this guy's not lazy; he works all the time."