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It’s obvious why Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry is thinking about becoming a presidential candidate.  He has a clear path to victory. 

Mr. Perry, now serving his 11th year as the political leader of the nation’s second largest state, which makes him America’s senior Governor, also possesses the most impressive economic record of any candidate, President Obama inclusive.

While the United States continues to hemorrhage cumulative job loss under Obama, Texas robustly gains employment opportunities.  During the past decade, the Lone Star State has seen an increase of approximately 730,000 jobs, tops among all states, while the US as a whole lost 2.2 million. 

According to USA Today, for the coming year (1st quarter 2011 through 1st quarter 2012), Texas employment is projected to rise 3.2%, the best of any state, and better than 60% above the national rate.  In a campaign where the economy and jobs will be the key focus, no candidate has a more positive story to tell than Gov. Perry.

But economic performance is not the only point in his favor.  The political mathematics also seem to cut his way.  Since Arkansas ex-Governor Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and presumably former Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin are all bypassing running for President, conservative southern voters - who represent the very heart of the national GOP - now have no obvious candidate around whom to rally. 

Of the announced candidates, Massachusetts former Gov. Mitt Romney appears to be the only remaining top tier contender but his 2008 southern performance was poor.  Newt Gingrich has already self-imploded and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6), though appearing to be a fresh and interesting candidate with whom conservatives can identify, is likely too inexperienced in national campaigning to become a serious threat.  Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) has failed to deliver in previous presidential elections, and Minnesota ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty isn’t catching fire. 

With President Obama rather adroitly labeling Mr. Romney as the grandfather of his own controversial government run healthcare program, the Massachusetts ex-Governor is likely to be even less popular with conservatives than he was when placing fourth in the trendsetting ’08 South Carolina primary (with just 15.3% of the vote) and in Florida, the region’s largest primary, when he fell to John McCain by five points, attracting 31%. 

Romney would then go on to finish behind both McCain and Huckabee in every southern state where the trio appeared on the ballot, precipitating his exit from the campaign immediately after Super Tuesday.  Considering his historical unpopularity in the south, Mr. Romney could do just as poorly this time particularly with the thorny healthcare issue wrapped around his neck.

Arithmetically speaking, it’s the number of regional delegates and how they could stack up in Perry’s favor that makes him a viable potential candidate.  To win the Republican presidential nomination in late August of next year, 1,212 delegates must vote for a particular candidate at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. 

To begin, Perry’s home state of Texas has 152 delegates, second in size only to California’s 172.  With its congressional district/caucus delegate apportionment formula, the Governor would certainly attract the overwhelming majority of his own state’s delegate support.  Since he ostensibly plays well in the south, Perry can reasonably be expected to win the region. 

He could obtain a potentially large percentage of the 764 delegates who reside in the southern states from Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, down through Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and east through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama all the way to Florida. 

Of these places, Virginia (49 delegates) has the only winner-take-all (WTA) format.  Outside of the south, Perry would be competitive in three other WTA states: Arizona (57 delegates), Missouri (53) and Montana (26).  If he could score 60% of the southern delegates and take the three aforementioned non-southern WTA’s he would be knocking on the door of 600 delegate votes, almost half-way to securing the nomination.  No other candidate could realistically do as well geographically, including Mr. Romney.

The 2012 Republican presidential campaign is about to get very interesting.  Could Rick Perry be that new candidate who’s in the right place at the right time and surprisingly sweeps the field?  It’s still too early to tell, but the Texas Governor certainly seems to be planting all the right seeds.

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Jim Ellis

Jim Ellis a political writer and former political advisor to the House Republican leadership through 2006.