Report: Rick Perry thinking of jumping into GOP race

It’d be hard for him to say no. Romney, Pawlenty, and Huntsman will split the centrist vote, so there’s an opportunity on the right for a prominent conservative to swoop in and consolidate the base. That’s what Palin’s going to try to do, leveraging her higher name recognition to swamp Bachmann and Cain in Iowa, but Perry would be a major challenge for her. In fact, given his record on jobs, he may even pull some votes from the centrists.

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With conservatives aching for more choices in the approaching 2012 Republican primary, Perry declined Tuesday to rule out a White House bid during a press conference about a new anti-abortion measure. Also Tuesday, his top strategist told the Tribune that the governor is, naturally, “thinking about it” given the flattering comments made recently by some in the GOP, although he “doesn’t see any change in his direction.”…

The Perry camp is still telegraphing the notion that the default position is not to run, but it’s safe to say they have cracked the door open, at least a little bit, over the last week. Specific wording matters — a lot — in these speculative political matters…

“Obviously, it’s flattering to have everybody, Rush Limbaugh and all these other conservative, right-of-center leaders, talk about you, urging you to think about it, urging you to run, saying they support you. But I don’t see any difference in terms of the governor’s thinking,” [Perry strategist Dave] Carney said.

“I’m sure he’s thinking about it because it’s just human nature when you have Rush Limbaugh spend 20 minutes talking about you and have all these other people mention you, that you don’t sort of think that’s flattering and think about it. But I don’t see any change in his direction, what he’s planning to do.”

That’s not all. Laura Ingraham told Mike Pence on the air this morning that a source in Texas who’s tapped into political circles insists that Perry will announce his candidacy in the coming days. Skip ahead to 2:20 of the clip below to listen. If that’s true, he needs to get in ASAP and ride the buzz for as long as he can before Palin announces and the media stampedes to cover her instead. In fact, he may be thinking that if he jumps in now, it may convince Palin that her path to the nomination is too difficult and that it’s not worth running after all. Granted, that’s highly unlikely given that there’s a candidate-approved Palin movie rolling out in Iowa next month, but he gains nothing by waiting.

Exit question: What does this do for Pawlenty’s chances? T-Paw might be the only “centrist” who ends up campaigning hard in Iowa, so if grassroots conservatives there end up splitting between Perry, Palin, and the dark horses, he could squeak through. On the other hand, Pawlenty’s niche is as the electable “Not Romney” candidate, and once Perry is in, that niche will have two members. What’s the argument for T-Paw then?