Given that Texas Gov. Rick Perry plans to announce his presidential candidacy tomorrow, my ears have been especially perked for mentions of his name out here in Iowa. So far, he’s only come up a couple of times, but those comments — not surprisingly — suggest Iowans, at least, feel slighted at his decision to skip the debate and straw poll. They don’t seem to feel obligated to welcome him here when he arrives on Sunday, either.

Yesterday, for example, at a pre-debate event hosted by The Heritage Foundation, Rep. Steve King told us he thinks Perry’s decision to declare in South Carolina and to skip out on this week in Iowa was a “colossal blunder.” That might be wording it a little strongly, but it does still raise the question: Will Perry lose more than he’ll gain with the mode and timing of his declaration?

All of the obvious observations come into play here: Sure, he’s not satisfying the parochial concerns of Iowans, whose (rightful) pride in their state (it’s quite nice!) and its “first in the nation” status obscures their perspective on this. But he is setting himself up, immediately, to receive equal media attention as the respective winners of last night’s debate and tomorrow’s straw poll, thereby establishing himself as a top-tier candidate (which, based on polling, we always knew he would be anyway). It’s late enough in the game for voters to begin to be ready to narrow the field down and Perry, by the timing of his entrance, has basically guaranteed he’ll make the cut. But it’s also early enough to ensure voters — even Iowans — have forgotten his neglect of the straw poll by caucus time.

From my vantage point here in Ames, Perry hasn’t made a mistake at all. Of course, he’ll still have to perform. One of the reasons I was so reluctant to declare him the de facto winner of last night’s debate stems from my dislike (however unfounded) of what I call “the declaration dance.” Some part of me wishes everybody who wanted in had to declare on the same day, just so candidate comparisons could be a bit more fair and accurate. It’s possible Perry will pale in comparison to the other candidates as soon as voters see him on the campaign trail or standing on the national debate stage.

Now, I don’t personally see that happening. Like Sarah Palin, I am “enthused” that Perry has decided to run — and think he would make a formidable opponent to President Barack Obama. But it is possible — and, in fact, at least one prominent pundit has declared it probable.

“You’ll see Rick Perry,” Ann Coulter said today on Sean Hannity’s radio show. “He won’t live up to expectations and the American people will throw themselves into the arms of Chris Christie. That’s my scenario.”

Of course, Coulter’s comments reflect her determination to see Chris Christie enter the race at least as much as they reflect any kind of negative appraisal of Perry (and she said the whole sentence somewhat laughingly), but still, her comments come as an important reminder. The presidential campaign process is, in fact, grueling. Perry will probably withstand it with grace and presence — he seems like gold to me, tough and solid — but he could also fade.

That’s just one reason to hope the candidates here in Iowa get their acts together again and appear tomorrow at the straw poll a little more like the bunch who appeared on the stage in New Hampshire — informed, energetic and solutions-oriented. It’s also a reason to appreciate more fully that Romney still appeared presidential on the stage last night. And it’s a reason to look forward to the competition to come, because, even if that competition causes some to falter, it will also help to refine the eventual Republican nominee to the point where he or she can easily beat Obama in the general.