- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2011

Rick Perry could throw the results of Saturday’s Iowa straw poll into a cocked hat if the Texas governor goes through with plans to say in a South Carolina speech that he intends to seek the Republican presidential nomination, Iowa Republicans said.

What he says Saturday in his long-scheduled appearance at a Charleston bloggers convention won’t affect the voting in Iowa — traditionally the first state to hold a presidential-nomination contest.

But the speech will affect the way people interpret the outcome of the closely watched straw poll in the university town of Ames, the Iowa Republicans said.

When asked Monday whether Mr. Perry will formally announce his candidacy in South Carolina, a Perry spokesman gave a nuanced response heavy with campaign-style rhetoric.

“The governor is not a candidate for office at this time,” Mark Miner wrote in an email to The Washington Times. “With President Obama’s dismal economic record, and Texas’ success in creating jobs and balancing our budget, Governor Perry continues to consider a potential run for the White House. Stay tuned.”

A Saturday announcement would let Mr. Perry stay out of what many Iowans say will be a “muddled” straw poll that former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah are not actively contesting, even though they are both declared nomination candidates on the ballot.

But Mr. Perry could expect to see his announcement of an intention to run to boost his ranking in national polls. Indeed, he is already second or third behind Mr. Romney and Rep Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

“This straw poll was not going to give us any idea of Perry’s real strength, since he is not on the ballot,” Iowa Republican and social conservative leader Steve Scheffler said. “This race is a muddle, with 80 percent [of Iowa Republican] voters undecided, way more than in 2008 or 2004. But if he also says he’s getting in, he will draw significantly from that 80 percent.”

Republicans close to Mr. Perry have been saying he will use his South Carolina appearance before a Republican group to say with his own lips what his actions for the last month have been shouting.

“He has made a ton of calls here in Iowa, and I can’t believe it was for his health,” Mr. Scheffler said. “He has been asking activists who influence other people in Iowa what they would think of his running.”

Even according to the official Perry schedule, his South Carolina speech will precede a meeting in a private home in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s second presidential-nominating contest and first primary.

Darrell Kearney, a veteran GOP campaign fundraiser in Iowa said, “He is getting into the race and will compete in the Iowa caucuses after Saturday’s straw poll.

“Many Iowa major donors are looking at Perry right now and are making contact,” Mr. Kearney said. “I expect Perry to meet with major donors in Iowa soon after he announces.”

Mr. Kearney noted that a 527 independent-expenditure group in Iowa “has already been running TV ads for Perry here and has hired six staff people to generate support in Iowa.”

For the first time ever, the straw poll will allow write-ins, but Mr. Perry is not expected to draw much benefit from that provision.

Mrs. Bachmann, popular with Iowa religious and social conservatives, is expected to do well in the poll, though she doesn’t have as large a campaign organization in place as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

But privately, senior Republicans in the state say the candidate to watch is Mr. Perry, who on Saturday held a national call to prayer, an event at the Reliant Stadium in Houston attended by an estimated 30,000 people.

Perry supporters said that any announcement would have to come after the prayer day event lest it be interpreted as a political rally.

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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