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Rick Perry Eyes Late August Campaign Launch

By Erin McPike and Scott Conroy - July 25, 2011

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry is all but certain to launch a presidential campaign and is nearing an announcement set for the second half of August, according to sources familiar with his political team's planning.

For months, Republican activists, donors, elected officials, and even voters have dithered about their choices in the 2012 presidential primary contest. This is especially true of grass-roots conservatives who have clamored for someone else to enter the fray, only to be disappointed by the likes of Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- all of whom declared this year they would not be candidates, in that order.

But they may have their man in Rick Perry, a telegenic and booming political presence who boasts executive experience as the nation's longest serving governor, as well as a healthy level of support from the tea party faithful. The governor's wife, Anita, has given him her blessing for a national campaign, and now that anticipation of a Perry candidacy is reaching a fever pitch, he is poised to jump into the race next month.

Potential donors to Perry's presidential effort met Tuesday in Austin, and those familiar with what transpired there told RealClearPolitics that key players in Perry's orbit indicated the 61-year-old Republican will announce a campaign between Aug. 15 and Aug. 31. Perry himself said on Friday that he'll at least make his intentions known within the next three to four weeks.

In the past month Perry's team has moved swiftly to put the parts in place for a campaign.

Although Perry always has had a large advance staff because of Texas' size, several low-level staffers on Capitol Hill who have experience doing advance work have departed conspicuously for the Lone Star State in recent weeks.

While Perry has focused on determining whether he can raise the funds necessary to run a credible campaign, his strategists have begun locking down verbal commitments from vendors and other potential top staff who would fill out a campaign organization. One who was contacted about a senior staff position was told, "This is a 99 percent sure thing." Another said he was told, "He is 100 percent in." That wouldn't seem to leave much margin of error, but a third vendor who was approached said that while Perry's political circle is lining up a staff, they are doing so without knowing what Perry's final call will be.

Meanwhile, Perry has traveled to California twice recently to meet with potential GOP donors, and his team has organized another big meeting for conservative contributors this Thursday in Austin to follow on last week's efforts there.

Sources steeped in Texas politics also told RCP that Perry has made follow-up calls to many of his own state's biggest donors to inform them that he is running so he can confirm the level of financial commitment he can count on from them. That may be to determine what his overall funding will look like in the early stages of a campaign so he can figure out how to structure his organization -- and have a strong one in place by the time he announces.

Perry also has begun to prime the press in the first two nominating states, Iowa and New Hampshire. He has communicated with his Texas-based press corps en masse, but has given few other interviews since he began exploring a presidential bid in June. He granted an exclusive interview to the Hawkeye State's largest paper, the Des Moines Register, about 10 days ago. And over the weekend he phoned the dean of the New Hampshire political press, John DiStaso of the New Hampshire Union Leader.

In his conversation with DiStaso, Perry sounded very much like a man trying on the idea of New Hampshire's famous "retail" politics. He said that if he does make the race, he'd "absolutely" engage in the one-on-one campaigning that Granite Staters famously demand of candidates. Perry said he'd done that kind of thing earlier in his political career -- and enjoyed it immensely.


"I love the give-and-take and the personal engagement," he told the Union Leader.

Speculation about the Texan has mounted steadily in recent weeks, in part because political operatives close to Perry's team have been feeding it. Craig Schoenfeld of the 527 advocacy group Americans for Perry tried to secure a slot on the infamous Iowa Straw Poll on Aug. 13 in Ames. Although the effort failed, it likely wasn't raised at all without a blessing from those poring over plans for how to launch Perry into the race.

A source with knowledge of Team Perry's plans told RCP last week that an announcement had been planned for the second week in August, just days after the governor is scheduled to host a "day of prayer and fasting for our nation's challenges" on Aug. 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

Those tentative plans may have been scrapped for the later window in conjunction with more recent developments about the straw poll. Perry will not be listed as a choice on the ballot, and it has become clear that it was getting to be too late to prepare for what is mostly a display of organizational heft. Americans for Perry has urged activists to put down Perry's name as a write-in candidate, but the importance of the exercise has dwindled significantly, however, because other candidates have chosen to skip it. Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich have announced they won't compete in the non-scientific survey, and Sarah Palin, who is not a candidate but remains a potential wildcard, also has been left off the ballot, so the results may not be a key indicator of whom the GOP electorate favors.

Instead, Perry will be the headliner that same day at the 2011 RedState Gathering in yet another early nominating state, South Carolina.

And after a busy week in GOP primary politics, from Perry's Houston event Aug. 6 to a candidate debate Aug. 11 in Ames, and concluding with his South Carolina event and the Iowa Straw Poll two days after that, strategists say the Texas governor will have an opening to dominate the news and shift the primary's focus. The dynamic is ripe for him to do just that: Two new national polls released on Friday showed Perry in a statistical tie for first place with the front-running Romney.

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Erin McPike and Scott Conroy are national political reporters for RealClearPolitics. Erin can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Scott can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com

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