Texas Governor Rick Perry and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani both say that they are in the final stages of deciding whether to run for president in 2012.
Giuliani would challenge Mitt Romney from the left. He could be popular with Republican-leaning independents, who are likely to vote in large numbers in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Perry would challenge Romney from the right, galvanizing base voters who are currently splitting their allegiances between the former Bay State governor and Michele Bachmann.
The conventional wisdom among pundits is that conservatives are begging Perry to run and that the party faithful will flock to him if he does. But in truth, Perry’s appeal may be overstated. His bombastic rabble-rousing and mixed record on deficit-cutting could prove to be major political liabilities. And it’s been years since Perry has engaged in the kind of grassroots campaigning that the Iowa and New Hampshire contests demand — and that a congresswoman like Bachmann, who knows how to work a district, excels at.
Giuliani’s potential may also be overstated. His socially moderate policies still put him at a significant disadvantage, he’s been out of office for years and he’s not a terrific campaigner. Plus, some GOP funders are still upset about the way he handled his 2008 campaign. Still, Giuliani does well in the polls, and not just among independents.
Of course, there’s another huge variable that could shape the two men’s decisions: whether Sarah Palin decides to run.
If Palin runs, Perry probably won’t because of the enormous debt he owes her for helping rescue his re-election campaign last year.
But a Palin run would have the opposite effect on Giuliani. He’s made it clear in the past that a Palin run would increase the odds of him getting in, because it would allow him to position himself as the anti-Palin candidate.
In all likelihood, Palin won’t run, which means Giuliani probably won’t either.
That leaves Perry, who has spent much of this past week sounding out his prospective support in Iowa and New Hampshire. The news has been sobering. If he ran, given his late start, he probably wouldn’t be able to overtake Bachmann in Iowa or Romney in New Hampshire.
But he could weaken Bachmann and allow Romney to consolidate his position in New Hampshire, especially among moderates. That would leave a badly split three-way race, which is something Republicans don’t want.
My bet is that Perry won’t end up running. And once the fast-surging Bachmann sweeps to victory in the Ames straw poll next month, she and Romney will end up as the frontrunners.
So enjoy the current field. For better or worse, it’s the one we’re probably stuck with.
Stewart J. Lawrence is a Washington, D.C.-based public policy analyst who writes frequently on immigration and Latino affairs. He is also founder and managing director of Puentes & Associates, Inc., a bilingual survey research and communications firm.