So it's not surprising that eyes turn to late entrants who could add some class to what is currently a pretty drab or shabby field. Mitch Daniels is the front-runner in the Hypothetical Derby but by the time Daniels declares, if indeed he does, he'll seem like old news already and, worse, risks being hobbled by more expectation than he can reasonably be expected to carry. So we need another candidate. Especially since New Jersey's Chris Christie has also done a Sherman.
Texas governor Rick Perry has, rather inconveniently, consistently denied any interest in competing over this course and distance. Nevertheless, he looks the part and so it's hardly a surprise that people continue to whisper that, once the current Texas legislative session ends, he might consider running. This Real Clear Politics report has attracted plenty of interest for claiming that a tiny band of super-secret agents has been sent from Texas to discover what might be out there.
Now that God has spoken to Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour ain't running either there's no credible candidate from the South. As Nate Silver makes clear this creates an obvious opening for any candidate who can command southern and evangelical support. The primary calendar is friendly to any candidate who can do so, not least since more than half the conservatives who tend to vote in the GOP Iowa caucuses are evangelicals. Then there's South Carolina, then Florida and then plenty of southern states on Super Tuesday, including Texas itself...
While there are aspects of his record that could cause problems in a general election, they're not likely to be nearly so problematic in the Republican primary. You don't have to spend much time looking at the map to find a viable path to the nomination for someone like Perry.
Moreover, even though the Texas governor is weaker, constitutionally speaking, than many of his colleagues across America, it is perceived, not altogether unreasonably as a Big Job. And Perry has been governor for 10 years. There's a small state penalty when you run for President but, obviously, that doesn't hurt Perry. On the contrary, he'd immediately become a so-called "Top Tier" candidate if he ran simply because Texas is the kind of state that produces Presidents and there's a fuzzy perception that if you're Governor of Texas you must be worth taking seriously. It's much easier to build national name recognition from Austin than from Santa Fe or Saint Paul.
Nor would money be a problem since, presumably, Perry could tap into the Bush network. None of this means Perry would be a good candidate or especially persuasive on the campaign trail. It's merely the case that, whatever his own qualities, at this stage he lacks the obviously disqualifying features that rule out the loons (Gingrich, Bachmann) and the no-hopers (Gary Johnson, alas).
As it stands, voters seem likely to have to "settle" for Romney or Pawlenty. Few of them can be happy about that; many of them might be likely to support Perry. As Silver says, all things being equal and all caveats about sample size accepted, southern candidates tend to fare disproportionately better in the south than midwesterners do in the midwest. And since 35% of the population lives in the 15 states that can, broadly speaking, be considered "politically southern" there's an obvious gap in the market right now.
That could change if Sarah Palin decides to run but her star is dimmer than it was. If Perry has a tilt I'd say that, at least on paper*, he has a pretty fair chance of success. Even if Daniels runs too. If he runs. Which he's said he won't. But politicians have been known to change their minds before.
*Obviously politics is not played on paper. Still...