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ANALYSIS-Newt Gingrich's loss may be Rick Perry's gain

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 10 Jun 2011 19:38 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Perry will need to move quickly

* Four to six weeks to decide on presidential run?

* Might benefit from open Republican field

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON, June 10 (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry has some fast footwork to do if he plans to make a late entrance into the 2012 Republican presidential contest.

Speculation that Perry might make the leap increased this week when two of his former top advisers, Rob Johnson and Dave Carney, became available after they abandoned Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign in a dispute over the direction of Gingrich's candidacy.

Perry has already sent some signals that he might be softening his earlier resistance to a 2012 run. "I'm going to think about it," he said two weeks ago.

The collapse of Gingrich's campaign and the earlier decision by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee not to run could create a void that Perry could fill.

But if Perry is going to run, he will need to move quickly. Perry's conservative message -- against abortion, in favor of low taxes and less regulation -- would likely play well among Iowa's voters. But he must get there to deliver it.

Iowa Republicans are preparing for an Aug. 13 straw poll, a key test of strength in the state, which holds the first U.S. voting contest early next year.

"I think he's probably got four to six weeks to make the final decision," said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. "If he's going to run he has to compete in the straw poll."

Two major 2012 players, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, are not putting a major focus on Iowa, leaving others to compete, such as former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

"The timing for Rick Perry is perfect. Mike Huckabee has dropped out and Newt Gingrich has imploded leaving a huge opening for him, particularly in Iowa where two of the leading candidates have indicated they are not going to play 100 percent," said Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, a Texan.

WIDE OPEN

The Dallas Morning News reported that there has been little evidence Perry has assembled any of the formal architecture of a campaign, from transportation to making grassroots contacts in early voting states and lining up a strong donor list to fund the race.

If Perry is going to make the leap, the next week should provide some clues as to his intentions.

Perry, the longest serving Texas governor in the state's history, is to make three public appearances outside his home state for speeches -- in New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans.

The New Orleans appearance next weekend is at the Republican Leadership Conference, where several Republican White House hopefuls are to speak.

Perry could benefit from the slow-to-start Republican campaign. Romney is arguably the front-runner but faces lingering questions about his conservative bonafides and many analysts believe the field is wide open.

"It's not too late," said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. "I think the race is pretty much wide open right now."

At a time of economic turmoil across the country, Perry need only point to his home state. The Texas jobless rate was 7.7 percent in April, a sizable improvement over the national rate of 9.1 percent.

He also plays well with the conservative Tea Party segment of the Republican Party, and if former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin decides not to run, she might be inclined to support him.

"He and Sarah Palin are very close," said McKinnon. (Editing by Eric Beech)

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