The question Perry presents is whether his nomination would make it easier for Obama to hold those states by creating cultural barriers for the GOP. Like Bush, Perry is an evangelical Christian with a pronounced Texas swagger; he’s identified with causes such as restricting abortion more unreservedly than Bush was.

As the nominee, could Perry alienate culturally moderate voters outside the South, especially white-collar suburbanites, who might otherwise abandon Obama on economic grounds? “It’s a risk,” McKinnon says. Pennsylvania-based GOP consultant Christopher Nicholas agrees: “It makes it infinitely more difficult because history has proven those candidates don’t get traction in the Northeastern suburbs.”

The immediate issue for Perry is whether doubts about his electability, or resistance to his social views, would deter GOP primary voters beyond the South, where he likely would be formidable. David Carney, Perry’s chief strategist, predicts neither concern would hurt the governor much if he runs, mostly because “the economy will dominate” the primary election, overshadowing other issues.

Even senior strategists for some other GOP contenders agree.