After months of hinting and winking, the right-wing Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, appears set to make clear this Saturday his intention to seek the Republican presidential nomination next year and create instant tumult in the race, not least because of its devil-may-care timing.
While the official word yesterday from the Perry camp remained a coy "stay tuned", Mr Perry is expected to confirm his presidential aspirations at a conference in South Carolina on the day that the party's attention was meant to be focused on the Ames Straw Poll, a traditional event in Iowa that usually helps to weed out the weakest from the field of runners. It was also confirmed last night that Mr Perry will speak at a Republican event in Iowa on Sunday.
While the results of the straw poll and the performance of all the existing candidates in a televised debate in Iowa tomorrow evening will remain critical, nothing will provide a bigger jolt than the addition of Mr Perry to the mix. Few doubt that he will move quickly towards the front of the pack to challenge the strongest runners, Mitt Romney and the Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann.
While he has moved closer to the right wing of his party, Governor Perry nonetheless has a potent biography. He grew up in a Texas home without plumbing and has in his long political career silenced his doubters with one election success after another. Better still he has presided over a state that has risen fastest from the last recession. More than 40 per cent of the new jobs created in the US since the recession have been in Mr Perry's Texas.
Not that he wouldn't face challenges, if he declares this weekend. The largest of them may simply be that he is Governor of Texas. America might recall electing one of those to the White House not too long ago and then wince. George Bush's unpopularity is enduring.
That he would throw his 10-gallon hat into the ring this weekend speaks of Perry-like bravado but could carry some risk. The people of Iowa take seriously their status as the first state to vote in the nomination process by holding caucuses (New Hampshire is the first to hold a traditional primary vote).
The Ames Straw Poll is the first part of the caucus ritual and Mr Perry seems about to suck some of the media attention away. "Attempts to pull some of the spotlight away from Ames and the Iowa caucuses will not sit well with Iowa activists," said Craig Robinson, a Republican activist. "Stealing some of the media attention away from the straw poll and the candidates that are participating on Saturday may seem like a savvy thing to do, but it comes at a high price. Perry risks alienating the very people he needs to support him."
Mr Perry's ability to make a national impact became clear when he drew plaudits for an address to Republicans in New Orleans in June. Supporters said he has since bided his time to see whether a strong narrative emerged among the candidates who have already declared and to assess the likely vulnerability of President Obama. The latter is now looking weaker than ever before and most Republicans would agree that for all Ms Bachmann's right-wing sparkle and Mr Romney's success in the polls, something had been missing in their band of hopefuls.
Mr Perry's conservative credentials rest in particular on his quest to forge a much smaller federal government and to champion states' rights. It is a message that has endeared him to the Tea Party at a time when the centre of gravity in the Republican Party had swung significantly rightwards.
In that respect, his joining the contest could spell as much trouble for the other conservatives with White House dreams, notably Ms Bachman, former Senator Rick Santorum and – should she ever reveal her intentions – Sarah Palin. While the moderate contenders like Mr Romney as well as Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty will ignore Mr Perry at their peril, they will hope that his main impact will be to split the Tea Party vote and push one of them towards the nomination.Reuse content