A former Democratic congressman and vocal critic of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) said Thursday that he will challenge Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2006.

"Rick Perry is an inspiring leader," Chris Bell (search) told The Associated Press. "In fact, he's inspired me to run for governor."

Bell was elected to the U.S. House in 2002 but lost his seat to Democrat Al Green last year after his district was redrawn.

Bell is best known for accusing DeLay of ethical violations. DeLay, a Republican, was instrumental in the GOP-led Texas congressional redistricting effort that resulted in Bell's defeat.

Although DeLay was admonished by the House, Bell was criticized for exaggerating misconduct allegations against the GOP leader.

Bell, who ran unsuccessfully for Houston mayor in 2001, has been exploring a campaign for governor for months but has struggled so far to gain firm footing in a state dominated by Republicans. The GOP has held every statewide office since the 1998 elections.

"Politics is about cycles and everyone knows the pendulum is going to swing at some point and no one knows when," Bell told The Associated Press. "It just became pretty obvious traveling around the state that people want to see new blood in office."

The Perry campaign said it would reserve judgment until a Democratic nominee is chosen.

"Democratic primary voters have sent him home early before," said Perry's campaign political director, Alfredo Rodriguez, referring to Bell's congressional defeat in 2004.

Bell reported raising about $153,000 in campaign contributions during the first six months of the year. Maverick independent candidate Kinky Friedman, a musician and author, raised $300,000 in the same period.

Perry and state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn (search), a GOP challenger, have raised millions.

Felix Alvarado, a middle school assistant principal who ran for Congress in 2002 and 2004, has also said he'll run for governor as a Democrat.