Rick Perry’s path

You’re always strongest when you’re “thinking” about running for president.

Gov. Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in the history of the nation’s second-largest state, is unquestionably the “flavor of the month.”

And his likely entrance into the 2012 campaign has many excited, but, as a recent Politico story reported, some in the Republican establishment feel threatened.

National polls show Perry in second place, behind frontrunner Mitt Romney, and his support seems to be growing.

I think Perry’s rapid national ascent can be explained by the fact that he combines Romney’s and Rep. Michele Bachmann’s strengths without possessing either’s weaknesses. Perry has all the dynamism and base credibility that Bachmann boasts, but he has real executive experience and accomplishments and does not have her record of cringe-inducing statements. Perry has Romney’s national stature (he is currently the chairman of the Republican Governors Association) and national fundraising capacity (he raised $40 million for his 2010 reelection and has already broken RGA fundraising records), but he does not have a history of flip-flopping or have to deal with Romneycare.

Is Rick Perry the perfect machine for the 2012 cycle?

Let’s look down the road a bit:

One likely scenario is as follows: Perry gets past the Aug. 6 non-political prayer and fasting event in Houston (scheduled long before he began considering a run), which has garnered some level of national criticism, and then remains mostly silent the following week as the announced candidates criss-cross Iowa and debate on Aug. 11 on Fox News, all leading up to the expensive and potentially significant Aug. 13 Ames Straw Poll.

Perry then has a chance to steal the limelight: He can choose to announce for president any day after the Ames Straw Poll.

On the day of the Ames Straw Poll, Perry will address the RedState Gathering in Charleston, SC, where kingmakers Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) will be speaking and hundreds of conservative activists, bloggers and donors will be in attendance. While much of the national press focus will be on Iowa, the likely nominee will be in South Carolina revving up the troops.

He could announce in his hometown (tiny Paint Creek, Texas) and then visit all three early states in a three-day fly-around.

Or, if he wants to directly challenge President Obama, he can announce in Chicago’s Grant Park: “I stand before you tonight to tell you that ‘hope and change’ has failed. It’s time for tough, sober, effective leadership.”

At that point he will hold all the cards and all the national attention will turn to him.

Once he announces, Perry will face scrutiny, like all new candidates do. Like anyone who has governed a large state for as long as he has, he has made decisions that have stirred opposition. The timid have few enemies. Rick Perry is anything but timid.

But he also has significant political strengths.

First, Perry has a wide range of strong relationships with many Republican governors. I could see him winning the endorsements of Haley, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA), Gov. Susana Martinez (R-NM) and Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NM). Haley and Sandoval have states with early primary contests and would be very significant endorsements. These governors have credibility, stature and major fundraising capacity (especially Barbour), and the Perry campaign can roll these out once a week from now to February. How many governors will Romney have?