Interesting, but there’s no word here on when the calls were made. Was it last week or was it six months ago? The answer matters a lot for tea-leaf-reading purposes.

If the answer’s closer to “last week” than to “six months ago,” why would you wait this long to nail down the information?

Ken Vogel and I both have sources telling us that calls were made on behalf of a mystery candidate to various early states to determine presidential filing deadlines.

The calls were made by representatives of the law firm Baker Hostetler – a firm that employs lawyer Mark Braden, who represents Sarah PAC, her political action committee.

As Ken notes, while he nor representatives of Palin’s campaign would comment on the calls, Palin is the only GOP politician eying the presidential race who is represented by the firm.

What happens to Perry and Cain if she pulls the trigger and gets in? She’ll pull votes from both, obviously, but just as there was an “Anyone But Romney” constituency in the center that was dying for Christie to get in, there’ll likely be an “Anyone But Palin” reaction in some quarters on the right. Does that benefit Perry, by forcing conservatives who are down on him to take a second look? Or does it benefit Cain, who’s suddenly steamrolling the competition? No joke: According to PPP, he now leads comfortably in three different states.

Here are the numbers:

North Carolina: Cain 27, Romney/Gingrich 17, Perry 15, Paul/Bachmann 6, Santorum/Huntsman 2

Nebraska: Cain 30, Gingrich 16, Romney 13, Bachmann/Perry 10, Paul 5, Santorum 4, Huntsman 2

West Virginia: Cain 24, Gingrich 18, Romney 16, Perry 15, Bachmann 8, Paul 6, Santorum 3, Huntsman 1

The thing fueling Cain’s lead in all of these states is strong support from the furthest right segment of the Republican electorate. Cain is at 35% with ‘very conservative’ voters and has a 14 point lead over Perry with them in North Carolina. In Nebraska he’s at 36% with them, putting him up 22 points over Gingrich and Perry. And in West Virginia he gets 25% with them, giving him a 9 point edge on Gingrich and Perry.

PunditPress notes a fourth poll from Cain’s home state of Georgia, where he leads by 24 points over fellow native Gingrich. Meanwhile, Gallup finds that Cain’s “positive intensity” score is now the highest of any candidate this year, fully twice the amount of his closest competitor, Perry. And the momentum is all one way:

Long story short: I think Cain is for real, or at least real enough to force a three-way split in the conservative vote if Palin gets in instead of the predicted two-way split between her and Perry. And you know who that benefits? I think you do. On the other hand, Cain doesn’t have the cash or the name recognition to go the distance with Romney. All the good news for him lately will help solve the latter problem, but probably not the former. Perry has the money and the high profile needed, but I can’t tell right now if voters who have soured on him will give him a second chance. We’ll know more after the debate next week, I think. If he bombs again, then Palin might be the only candidate on the right who can put a scare into Romney. She won’t be able to match him in money either, but press coverage of her will be so intense that she’ll be able to make up some of the difference in earned media. Exit question: Which of the three is the ultimate anti-Romney?

Update: Bachmann thinks the door is closed:

Now that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has announced he won’t run in the Republican presidential primary, the field is pretty much set, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said Tuesday.

“There will be a natural, I think, turn toward the existing candidates and I think the table is set. And I’m very comfortable with where we are in the race. I think we’ll show very well with the electorate,” Bachmann said according to the Des Moines Register.