The 2012 GOP field is harder to pin down than Sarah Palin's favorite magazine. News yesterday that Newt Gingrich's campaign staff has resigned en masse is less significant in what it means for Newt's chances — he wasn't going to be the nominee even had he a trained army of thousands at his beck and call — but rather in how it shifts the power balance of the field.
One top Gingrich staffer, Sonny Perdue, joined the Tim Pawlenty campaign. Meanwhile, two others departing are Rick Perry loyalists, adding to speculation that the Texas governor might be a late entrant to the contest, despite his previous denials. But now that a particularly tough, budget-balancing session of his state's legislature is winding down, Perry might suddenly be less consumed by his current day job.
As Perry flirts with a White House run, Mitt Romney — the man who would be most threatened by a Perry candidacy — is making the tactical decisions of a front-runner. Romney announced that he'll skip the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa this summer. Iowa's a place for candidates to build early momentum, and a place for surprises. Romney's taken a look at the poll numbers — which currently have him as the only GOP candidate who could beat Barack Obama but also aren't so great in Iowa — and decided it's probably not worth the effort. In the last election, he campaigned hard to win the 2007 straw poll — and still ended up losing Iowa's caucuses.
Perry shares many of Romney's major selling points: He's a smart, fiscally prudent pro-business guy with gubernatorial experience. Plus, he was in the Air Force, worked on the family cotton-farming business, and is a personal cheapskate — the campaign ads write themselves. He holds the powerful perch of chairman of the Republican Governor's Association. And he's good at creating jobs, which is what Americans want regardless of party affiliation right now: The L.A. Times points out that "Perry's state has created more new American jobs in the last four years alone than all the other 49 states combined," a soundbite-ready stat. He also didn't back a universal health-care bill and isn't a Mormon — which might be even bigger selling points in the GOP primaries. If Perry opts in, skipping Iowa might be a move that Romney will live to regret.