Rick Perry made a shrewd decision to officially stay off the ballot in the Iowa straw poll next month, as a way to escape expectations and cause his potential rivals to underperform (since his supporters are planning to write him in). But that tactic is not an option this weekend in Denver. Perry will give one of two keynote addresses tonight, on the opening day of the Western Conservative Summit, which will be held through Sunday.
The conference will also feature Herman Cain, John Bolton, and Rick Santorum, as well as a host of conservative media personalities. The conference, sponsored by a think tank affiliated with Colorado Christian University called the Centennial Institute, will also include a straw poll, and Perry’s name will be on it–the first such test of his (as yet unofficial, but likely) candidacy.
“With all the signals from Gov. Perry that there may be an announcement in August, we thought he belonged in the poll,” John Andrews, the organizer of the event, told the Texas Tribune. “The sense here in Colorado among political observers is that Perry is almost in.”
Perry has had a few news cycles roll his way recently, and this is one sign of how seriously conservatives–among whom Perry is quite popular–are taking his presidential prospects. Another indication, however, is the media microscope. While Perry may be waiting to officially enter the race, the scrutiny that comes with a presidential candidacy has begun. As Alana noted yesterday, Perry came under fire from social conservatives for his initial response to New York’s legalization of gay marriage–essentially that states have the right to do what they want on the issue. So Perry revised his statement, saying he should have been more careful about exactly what he said. He is learning just how closely every syllable of a candidate–especially a conservative one–gets pored over.
Ben Smith reported this week Perry may also take some heat for his ties to various Christian leaders. (One expects the New York Times to treat Perry a bit differently than they did Obama, when the paper ostentatiously refused to report on Jeremiah Wright’s assorted racist, anti-Semitic and other hateful comments made while Obama was a congregant.)
Perry has presided over robust job growth in Texas and retains an impressive fundraising network. Early polling has him within striking distance of Mitt Romney. This weekend will be the first test as to whether Perry can turn buzz into genuine momentum.