With Rick Perry out of his Texas holster, the presidential race will never be the same.
The straight-talking governor's whirlwind entrance into the Republican nominating contest gave the field a jolt this week. Since announcing his bid last Saturday -- and stepping on the toes of a major Iowa straw poll -- Perry has proceeded to stomp all over the publicity of his fellow candidates.
The shock will wear off. Strategists expect his surge to the top of the polls and his dominance of campaign media coverage to inevitably flag in the coming weeks. But his all-in campaign roll-out changes the game for the two candidates who were leading before he strolled in.
Perry's bid threatens to peel off conservative support from Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who before Perry was the unrivaled Tea Party firebrand of the race. At the same time, Perry presents a stiff challenge to the more moderate Mitt Romney -- like the former Massachusetts governor, Perry has executive experience and is talking an awful lot about jobs.
If Perry can control his quicksilver tongue, he has an opportunity to blaze a trail between the two, picking up Bachmann's tiny-government, social conservative followers as well as the business-oriented crowd that so far has gravitated to Romney.
GOP pollster Adam Geller said Perry will eat into Bachmann's base automatically by virtue of his reputation as a family-values fighter, so he should concentrate going forward on the economy to erode Romney's.
"The question is, is he built to last?" Geller said.
Perry's first week was chock-full of highs and lows.
After jumping in Saturday, Perry drew jeers just two days later for suggesting in Iowa that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's stimulus policies were "treasonous" and making an off-the-cuff comment about how Texans might not take kindly to him.
Republicans and Democrats alike cried foul. Perry also fought widespread first impressions that he sounds much like the last Republican president from Texas -- but in trying to distinguish himself from George W. Bush, he prompted criticism from Bush adviser Karl Rove.
Asked about the new candidate on the block, President Obama subtly urged Perry to watch his mouth. Education Secretary Arne Duncan even jumped in, criticizing Perry for his education policies.
But Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said that just shows "who they're worried about."
With Perry getting all the attention, Romney has given the Texas governor his space. Bonjean said Romney clearly wants to let Perry "walk out on his own plank with his own saw" -- in other words, self-destruct. But presuming he doesn't, Bonjean said Romney will have a hard time avoiding a direct debate with Perry over jobs and the economy.
Bachmann, meanwhile, may continue to make a bigger play for Tea Party-aligned, primary voters. Bonjean said it appears the three candidates have each picked a firewall primary or caucus -- Bachmann in Iowa, Romney in New Hampshire, Perry in South Carolina -- and the race could be close for awhile.
Both Perry and Bachmann were stumping in South Carolina on Friday.
There, Perry vowed to press for the elimination of federal health care overhaul provisions via executive order. Bachmann likewise vowed to push for an outright repeal presuming she can get enough allies in Congress.
She also hammered her anti-spending message to a receptive crowd, saying she would only introduce balanced budgets as president and praising the Tea Party for focusing on fiscal discipline.
Meanwhile, the rest of the pack is trying to break through as pundits chatter about the possibility of another candidate stepping in.
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who placed second in the Iowa straw poll last weekend just behind Bachmann and often polls respectably in national surveys, told Fox News he's not too concerned about Perry's entry. Advantage Paul, he reasoned.
"Everyone knew he was coming in," Paul said Friday. "His views are more conventional, they're more status quo. ... I think he will dilute the other votes in the opposition to our campaign."