Texas Gov. Rick Perry is looking like the biggest obstacle Mitt Romney faces to capturing the 2012 Republican nomination. National Journal's poll of Republican insiders show he's their second-most-likely bet to win the primary. Perry hasn't spent weeks expressing ambivalence about running, the way some other fantasy GOP candidates--like Mitch Daniels--did. Instead, he's on the phone with activists in Iowa and planning a massive day of prayer for Saturday. Iowa Republican Joni Scotter told NBC's Alex Moe that Perry had called her and left no doubt about his intentions. "I know he will [run]," Scotter said.

Perry has several things going for him, aside from his good jobs record as governor and a healthy head of hair. First, several states might move their primaries earlier in the year, which would be a big boost for the southern politician. Politico's James Hohmann reports that the Republican National Committee is going won't decide until January on whether they should punish states for pushing up their primaries against the rules. That will allow Florida to go fifth after Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Arizona might hold its vote the same day. "I'd be astonished if Rick Perry didn't roll through the Southern primaries," said David Woodard, a former consultant to Sen. Jim DeMint, told Bloomberg's David Mildenberg. "He has the swagger, he has the ties to the region and he's got a million conservative Christians who are all upset about gay marriage."
 
Second, Perry isn't bound by the campaign contribution laws that his potential rivals face. Texas doesn't limit campaign donations, so Perry is to free collect tons of cash without creating an exploratory committee. (An August 9 event requests as much as $100,000 from major donors, Bloomberg reports.) "It's restocking the coffers before he goes national. ... It's like topping off the tank before a big trip," lobbyist Bill Miller told Mildenberg. 
 
National Journal's James A. Barnes and Peter Bell report that Perry threatens Romney because he "blend[s] rank-and-file Republican support with tea party backing." One Republican described him as having "more juice than Bachmann" while being "more authentic than Romney."
 
And Perry has begun attacking Romney. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Perry criticized Romney's health care law in Massachusetts, which is what President Obama modeled his on. Perry framed it as a federalism argument--the states being laboratories of democracy:
"I can promise you when Bobby Jindal over on my eastern flank comes up with a new way to deliver health care because he is just a brilliant guy when it comes to policy issues dealing with health and human services, we'll go over there and snatch that in a minute and implement it in our state. When Brian Sandoval in Nevada comes up with a new way to deal with taxation and it will fit into our system in Texas we'll go put that in and try it.  If some state decides to do something like pass a health care plan that, you know, is kind of like this Obama thing and it's a failure then we kind of go, 'ooh, we don't want to do that,' and that state may have been harmed by it, but the whole nation was not."