Likely beneficiary of that decision is Gov. Rick Perry of Texas!
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the GOP 2012 nominating contest on Sunday after a poor third place showing in the Iowa Straw Poll, an early barometer of candidate appeal. Pawlenty had spent a great deal of time and money in Iowa and with Michelle Bachmann's surge in recent months it became increasingly doubtful that Pawlenty could reverse that trend or stay competitive enough to raise the large sums of campaign cash he would need to go on.
Pawlenty was the early "anti-Romney" candidate in the race for voters who aren't quite comfortable with the off again, on again conservatism of Mitt Romney. With Pawlenty out, that mantle will likely pass to Texas Governor Rick Perry who made his official announcement to enter the race from Charleston, SC on Saturday. But Pawlenty's single digit standing in most polls means Perry isn't likely to pick up a large bounce.
3 Way Race? Danger of Bachmann/ Perry Vote Split Benefiting Romney?
Unless Sarah Palin gets in (which appears increasingly unlikely) it looks like the contest will develop into a three way race with Romney the front runner, Perry only slightly behind and Bachmann in third place. Keep an eye on the Real Clear Politics polling averages in the next month or so to confirm this.
Romeny is riding on solid name I.D. having done reasonably well in the 2008 contest. Perry is still a relative unknown as is Bachmann outside conservative circles. Bachmann is likely to win the Iowa Caucus in early 2012 putting her to the forefront of national attention. Romney will likely carry New Hampshire and the concern among anti-Romney voters must be that Perry and Bachmann will split that vote in the South Carolina primary. That action may not hand Romney a SC victory but would set him up for what could well be a victory in the Florida.
A wild card in South Carolina which might dampen Bachmann's bid in the Palmetto State is the possible emergence from behind the pack of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. His surprising showing in the Iowa Straw Poll which beat expectations may mean increased ability to raise funds to organize in South Carolina where his strong stands on social conservative issues would likely draw support away from Bachmann. South Carolina would then be a two way race between Romney and Perry.
Following South Carolina, Michigan will likely go for Romney and then there is Florida and a spate of other states where more centrist candidates are likely to do well. At that point it would be largely Perry vs. Romney. [note: Final primary calender remains uncertain.]
That's all a bit speculative at this point, but if readers recall how Mike Huckabee split the conservative vote in South Carolina in the 2008 primary which put McCain on the path to the nomination it's not far fetched.
The best strategy for the Perry campaign would be to erect a "firewall" in South Carolina just as George W. Bush did in 2000 largely eliminating McCain from the contest. That will be harder to do with Bachmann in the race but not impossible. Placing the firewall in Florida, as Rudy Giuliani attempted to do in 2008, might be too late!