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Despite what the hosts and hostesses of MSNBC's Morning Joe program may tell you, it is not "too late" for any Republican candidate to enter the presidential primary. In fact, that's about as kooky a notion as one can have. Granted, for dark horse candidates, they need more time to build a grassroots coalition, raise money, try to gain notoriety before the big dogs step in and scoop it all up, and make a name for themselves so that they can be considered a major player when it's go time.
But the idea that someone like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Sarah Palin, or other high profile conservatives are hurting their chances by playing coy is just silly. With that in mind, there are rumblings that one such high profile conservative who has consistently demurred about having interest in running for president (sometimes a good sign that he or she has an interest in running for president) is still a possibility for 2012.
As many grass-roots Republicans remain in search of a conservative candidate with the pizazz to go toe-to-toe against President Obama, a man from deep in the heart of Texas who was tea party before the tea party was cool appears to be giving the presidential race some thought. Gov. Rick Perry has insisted on multiple occasions that he has no interest in the presidency, but RCP has learned that political associates have begun to nose around quietly on Perry's behalf.
A Texas pol who is close to Perry has been telling a few key strategists that the nation's longest-serving governor sees a vacuum and is waiting to be summoned into the race. This source believes that could happen by late summer. Without fellow Southerners Haley Barbour or Mike Huckabee in the race -- and with Newt Gingrich's early troubles raising further doubts about the current lineup -- there could be a glaring niche for Perry to fill.
According to another well-connected Republican, at least one Perry confidant has been very quietly making inquiries about the political terrain in the nation's first voting state of Iowa. A third Perry associate, RCP has learned, has been heralding a small contingent of Iowans with the time-tested line that is often used by would-be candidates who are leaving their options open: "Keep your powder dry."
Perry has consistently said what Mitch Daniels has said: he has business in his state to attend to first. Well, Perry's legislative session ends in a couple weeks, and there is nothing going on in the Republican primary right now to send a signal to Perry that it isn't a good time to run.
Perry is tough, he is conservative, and he is unapologetic. He is battle tested and he seems to possess articulation skills that exceed that of his predecessor (George W. Bush). He has led one of the largest states in the union for many years and has natural leadership skills. So what might keep him out of the race? Someone else who boasts a similar resume:
Perry's presidential prospects may ultimately be contingent on the decision made by the only GOP White House hopeful who can boast a resume and home state that is large enough to mess with Texas: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Perry shares Palin's dexterity with the simple, tough-talking language that tends to fire up the tea party faithful and is similarly adept at connecting on a human level that comes across as decidedly anti-politician, despite his more than a decade in the governor's mansion.
Palin endorsed Perry in his contentious primary against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison early last year, and they are both larger-than-life figures to the tea party rank and file. In other words, the race might not be big enough to hold both a Texas cowboy and a certain Mama Grizzly from the 49th state.
There's no indication that Palin is going to make a decision any time soon. And she doesn't have to. Her star power allows her to wait a long time before wading into the fray. Perry doesn't quite have the same luxury. But his entrance into the race would be a magnificent development for the Republican Party and for the country. Keep your eyes on Texas.