Just when the GOP 2012 presidential field appeared fully formed, a few Republican stars are sending strong signals that they might throw their hats into the ring.
After months of resisting calls to join the contest, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Friday he would consider it. That could reshape the GOP field, adding a sitting governor who has never lost an election.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin also sent a jolt through the party with the announcement of a campaign-style bus tour along the East Coast, the latest possible contender to stand up since Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced last weekend that he would not run.
And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is heading to New Hampshire next week, further stirring speculation that he will jump into the still-gelling field.
Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, would bring conservative bona fides, a proven fundraising record and a fresh voice. Even as Perry's closest advisers say he has no intention of getting in the race, he has methodically raised his profile, fanning interest.
"I'm going to think about it," Perry said Friday. "I think about a lot of things."
That was enough to set off speculation he would jump into a campaign that lacks a clear front-runner. Social conservatives are still shopping for a candidate. Tea party activists want one of their own. Establishment Republicans remain divided on a choice.
Romney will formally kick off his campaign in the early primary state of New Hampshire next Thursday, the same day that Giuliani is now scheduled to headline a fundraiser for the state Republican Party and have lunch with several GOP activists.
Evangelicals who dominate the Iowa and South Carolina nominating contests are unlikely to back Romney or former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman; some call the two men's shared Mormon faith a disqualifier.
Twice-divorced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, too, has problems, although Gingrich is quick to note he has been with his third wife for more than a decade.
Last month, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, fresh off a turn as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said he wouldn't make a White House bid; that unlocked many of the donors for Perry.
It also opened the door for a sought-after Southern candidate.
While Gingrich is running his campaign from Georgia, he has lived near Washington for decades and is hardly the regional candidate Perry could be.
Mark McKinnon, a veteran political consultant who advised President George W. Bush's campaigns, said of Perry, "The only real question is: Why wouldn't he run?"
Still, Perry has for months insisted he had no interest in a White House bid.
"I don't want to be the president of the United States," he said flatly in November.
With those refusals, he took the reins of the Republican Governors Association for a second term as chairman earlier this year, a signal he was serious about sitting 2012 out; he told fellow Republicans he wouldn't split his time between the RGA and a presidential campaign.
Since then, Perry's refusal seems to have softened, albeit ever so slightly. Asked Tuesday whether he would rule out a run, Perry left the door open.
"I've got my focus on where it is supposed to be and that is the legislative session," he told reporters. "Like I've said multiple times, I'm not going to get distracted from my work at hand, I'm not going to get distracted by that."
The Texas legislative session ends Monday.
"The candidates that are running are not the candidates that people want," said Ryan Hecker of the Houston Tea Party Society. "They're looking for someone, almost wistfully."
In recent years, Perry has made a sport out of bashing Washington. Most often, he assails the federal government for failing to secure the U.S. border with Mexico. In November, he published a book, "Fed Up!" In the book he describes the federal government as financially reckless and out of control and calls for a resurgence of state-based power.
Since he was re-elected to a third term, Perry has hopscotched across the country, making several trips to Washington and taking center stage at every conservative gathering of high-profile Republicans. From the Conservative Political Action Conference to a celebration commemorating what would have been Reagan's 100th birthday, Perry has constantly brushed elbows with GOP heavyweights.
Texas Democrats sought to paint that travel as a disqualifier.
"Governor Perry spends so much time jetting across the country, playing celebrity and ignoring Texas priorities, that he already fits the mold of a typical Washington politician. If Perry finally announces his candidacy, he would fit right into a GOP field that's already well-treaded by aspiring celebrities hawking books and reality TV shows," Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Gray said.
While professing to be focused on the state Legislature, Perry is also commenting on national policy debates that have little relevance to Texas.
He issued a statement last week after Obama's foreign policy speech.
"President Obama's speech today continues a misguided policy of alienating our traditional allies, in this case Israel, one of our strongest partners in the war on terror," Perry said, joining the field of likely GOP presidential contenders in criticizing Obama's foreign policy.
In or out of the race, Perry is scheduled to address conservative voters next month at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, a gathering that has become a showcase of Republican presidential wannabes.