Rick Perry will pick up a conservative endorsement from Capitol Hill, according to a report today from Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Senator James Inhofe told a Chamber of Commerce audience at the Tulsa Press Club that he plans on making good to a promise he made Rick Perry a year ago to be the first to endorse him for President:

“I called Rick Perry a year ago and told him, ‘If you’re running for president, I’ll be the first to endorse you,'” Inhofe said at a State Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Tulsa Press Club.

“I’m going to be that person on Monday.”

Inhofe also said that he has reservations about other members in the field, but none with Perry:

Inhofe said he “likes Mitt Romney, but he’s a little mushy on environmental issues” and “Newt Gingrich, I always have this vision of him sitting on the couch holding hands with Nancy Pelosi,” but that he has no reservations about Perry.

I’m not surprised at all by Inhofe’s decision to make an early endorsement for Perry.  Six months ago, I interviewed the Senator in his office to discuss his fight against the EPA, and I brought up Perry’s battles with the regulatory agency.  Inhofe immediately mentioned how it would strengthen Perry as a presidential candidate, and charmingly diagnosed Perry’s denial of interest in the race at the time (at 11:35):

EM: Your neighbor to the south, Texas, has been told by the EPA that they are no longer able to, ah, to control their own quality standards, because of a dispute between Texas and the EPA.  Do you think that that’s going to be a big platform on which this is going to be fought, because obviously Rick Perry says he’s going to fight the EPA all the way down the line.

INHOFE: Rick Perry’s doing a great job, by the way, and, ah (laughter), he’s looking better and better in the presidential race.

EM: Well, he says he’s not in it, but I’m not sure I’m buying that.

INHOFE: Well, we can all be cute about that … You remember, it wasn’t more than a year ago that they came to kill eleven of his coal-fired generating plants.  And all he’s trying to do is just provide energy for the people of his state, Texas.  So this is consistent with the fact that the EPA is going to try to shut down any — you watch and see what they’re going to try to do in Oklahoma now that we have a good, conservative Republican governor …

Inhofe has been waiting a long time to make this endorsement, and it should help Perry gain some traction among conservatives, especially in the Midwest.

Update: Looks like Inhofe isn’t the only one making a decision.  Perry gained 11 points since last month’s Gallup survey to take a 12-point lead among Republican primary voters:

Shortly after announcing his official candidacy, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has emerged as rank-and-file Republicans’ current favorite for their party’s 2012 presidential nomination. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents nationwide say they are most likely to support Perry, with Mitt Romney next, at 17%. …

Perry is a strong contender among key Republican subgroups. Older Republicans and those living in the South show especially strong support for him, at or near 40%. Conservative Republicans strongly favor Perry over Romney, but liberal and moderate Republicans support the two about equally. Perry’s support is also above average among religious Republicans.

The topline survey result doesn’t include Palin, who will make an appearance in Iowa over Labor Day weekend. With Palin in the mix, however, the news stays good for Perry, with 25% and an 11-point lead maintained over Romney.  Palin ties Ron Paul for 3rd with 11%.

It’s bad news for everyone else except, er, Ron Paul, who gained three points in the same period to come in 3rd at 13% in the topline response.  Romney falls to 17%, and Michele Bachmann to 10%, while undecideds declined one point to 17%, the lowest level yet in the Gallup series. Perry wins most of the subgroups – both men and women, all age demos except the youngest (he comes in second to Ron Paul, 21% to 29%), all regional demos except the East, where he barely misses a tie with Romney 16% to 17%, and all church-attendance demos.