Perry’s Path to GOP Nomination Could be the Clearest

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Maybe Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he’s decided to test the waters on a presidential run just because he’s feels left out.

For all the attention paid to the presidential possibilities of two members of the House (Paul Ryan and Michele Bachmann) and a reality show host (you know who), you’d never know that the Republicans had on their bench the three-term governor of the state with the nation’s best economy and the largest Republican population.

But for some reason, when Perry told people he wasn’t running, reporters believed him. If Chris Christie even flies over Iowa, the blogosphere goes into meltdown mode, but the political press for some reason mostly took Perry at his word.

It seems strange that they would have.

Perry, who has been governor for more than a decade, is a favorite of the Tea Party movement for his tough stands on state sovereignty, border security, taxes and gun rights. Anybody who packs heat when he jogs so he can blow away coyotes that mess with his Labrador retriever and hangs out with Ted Nugent at a Tax Day rally is going to have serious street cred with the Republican base.

As the Perry talk heats up, these primary election positives will be reinforced by liberals who find his Texas-fried politics to be repellant. Every time Democratic cable news talkers remind viewers that Perry once warned that Texas might secede from the union if Washington kept piling on new federal powers, somewhere in Iowa or South Carolina a Republican primary voter thinks, “Not bad.” When Perry gets chided for declining photo-ops with President Obama on visits to the state, somewhere in New Hampshire a guy with a “Don’t tread on me” flag on his bumper thinks, “Cool!”

But unlike some of the other Tea Party favorites, Perry has an easier case to make to establishment Republicans. His state has a $1.3 trillion economy now on track to pass California's as the nation’s largest. Perry has also avoided some of the hardest stands of the conservative movement. Consider that while Perry is constantly hectoring Obama for more border security, he declined to sign onto the movement for an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration when it was very hot among Republican circles.

Raised on a cotton farm and prone to a strong Texas twang, Perry won’t be grabbing the wonk vote from Mitch Daniels’ fans. But as a 28-year political veteran who started his career as a Democrat and pushed his way to the head of the state GOP and now the national Republican Governors Association, Perry knows how to adapt, survive and compromise when he needs to.

Plus, Republicans are almost certain to pick a nominee who is or was a governor. It makes for more gravitas when running against a sitting president and the GOP just seems more comfortable with the strong, decisive type than coalition-building congressmen.

Republican’s haven’t lost a presidential election with a former governor since Thomas Dewey in 1948. All six of the Republican presidential losses in the same period have been with a current or former member of Congress.

So how could it be that the GOP hasn’t been looking harder at Perry, the 61-year-old Methodist who’s married to his high-school sweetheart? It’s partly because Perry has no ties to the East Coast media establishment. The people around him are pure Texas and he’s never done much that would catch the eye of the political press. He’s not exactly a symposium kind of guy.

So maybe Perry is just engaging in this presidential flirtation to make a point and raise his profile ahead of fundraising season when he will be hitting the road to raise money for his fellow governors. Maybe he thought it would nice just to be asked.

But whatever has brought him to this point, if he does take a serious look, he may find that he has clearer path to the nomination than anyone else.

Perry has a natural alliance with the most important potential kingmaker of the cycle, if Sarah Palin doesn’t run herself. He would provide the sharpest contrast – politically and culturally – with frontrunner Mitt Romney at a time when Republicans are eager for an alternative. And being from a large, wealthy state, he has the best chance to turn on the kind of fast fundraising necessary to contend with Romney’s mega bucks.

Now that he’s moseyed over to the pool, Perry may find good reason to dive in.

Chris Stirewalt is FOX News’ digital politics editor. His political note, Power Play, is available every weekday morning at FOXNEWS.COM.