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Is Rick Perry's next race for president?

Up next: presidential candidate Rick Perry?

Don't rule it out.

To be sure, Perry has disavowed interest in going national.

"I have great interest in who the president is going to be in 2012," he said before his smashing gubernatorial primary victory Tuesday. "It won't be me. I have no interest in going to Washington, D.C."

Of course, the president in 2012 presumably will still be Barack Obama. But beyond that technicality, why should Texans believe Perry's disclaimers any more than they should have believed defeated rival Kay Bailey Hutchison's repeated vows to resign her U.S. Senate seat?

For one thing, it's a rare politician who doesn't at least think about seeking the next job up the political ladder, even though many never admit it. For another, the next GOP presidential race is as wide open as any within memory.

In a potentially prescient commentary last November, Texas Monthly's esteemed Paul Burka listed nine factors why Perry was "well placed to be a viable contender in 2012."

Among them: His long record as the conservative governor of Texas; an anti-Washington message that appeals to rank-and-file Republicans, including the "tea party" folks; an extensive fundraising apparatus; and excellent ties to such key pro-GOP media figures as Grover Norquist, Rush Limbaugh and "the Murdoch news empire."

Burka pushed his thesis again in the magazine's February issue, and the Economist gave the speculation another boost. So did the extent of Tuesday's victory.

Some current political factors add credibility to a Perry presidential scenario, assuming he can pass muster as a candidate.

Not only does Texas have the second-most GOP convention delegates, but the 13 Southern and border states, including Kentucky and Oklahoma, will have at least 30 percent of the delegates in 2012, more than half the number needed to win the nomination.

On paper, the initial GOP field doesn't look that strong. Some pundits have rushed to crown former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the front-runner, citing his success as a businessman, his rugged good looks, his tenure in Massachusetts and the experience he gained in 2008.

But Romney demonstrated then that he lacks the visceral appeal of the best candidates. He led in both Iowa and New Hampshire, before voters looked more closely at the candidates.

Other possibilities also lack pizzazz, including Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and South Dakota Sen. John Thune.

Perry looks like the rugged West Texas rancher he once was and could bring something of the "Marlboro Man" look that Ronald Reagan once displayed.

Though the South is a key player in GOP presidential politics, the only Southern prospects so far are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a controversial figure with a checkered personal life and no real geographic or political base, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has expressed doubts about running again.

The one prospective contender whose presence might block a Perry candidacy is Sarah Palin, who shares many of his views and probably would have first call on the party's anti-establishment base. Analysts are divided on whether she'll run, and few believe she could be elected, citing polls showing 70 percent of Americans consider her unqualified to be president.

A Perry candidacy would face several obvious obstacles. For one thing, it's not clear the country would elect another Texas cowboy after its unhappy experience with George W. Bush. Obama probably has to fare a lot worse than he has so far to make Americans nostalgic for a Bush revival.

And while Perry has been a successful candidate within the Texas Republican Party, running for president is far harder and the national party not so conservative. The campaign trail is littered with successful governors and senators who came to political grief in presidential bids.

His anti-Washington rhetoric would play well with many Republicans. But he'd have to deal with a whole new set of issues, including complex national security questions with which he has little familiarity.

A repeat candidate like Romney or an experienced legislator like Gingrich might have a big advantage there.

The one sure thing that would torpedo any potential Perry candidacy would be a general election loss in November. Pre-primary polls showed him with only a single-digit lead against former Houston Mayor Bill White, an easy winner in Tuesday's Democratic primary. But Texas remains a Republican state, and this looks like a Republican year.

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