In the end, Gov. Rick Perry's much-hyped prayer event at Houston's Reliant Stadium, The Response, did exactly what it was supposed to do, bringing together about 30,000 people to pray for the state of the country — and tightening Perry's grip on a key Republican demographic.
“For me it just reaffirms who he is and why we vote for him," said Response attendee Duffy Johnson of Dallas. "And if that propels him to a presidential candidacy, then I would definitely vote for him."
And that may be exactly what Perry was hoping for.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
“He needs people to be focused on whether he’s going to run, and indicating that they hope he will," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. "So he enjoys this tease.”
Jillson said positive reception from political pundits and potential voters could keep momentum behind a Perry candidacy as he mulls when to announce. But the governor can’t wait forever, said Reid Wilson, editor-in-chief of Hotline, National Journal's daily political briefing.
“Now’s the time for Rick Perry to really start putting together the team that can carry him on to a presidential win," Reid said.
In its June GOP Presidential Power Rankings, Hotline put Perry in third place, behind former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. Hotline will release its latest rankings in a week or so — and don't be surprised if Perry moves up, Wilson said.
“He can talk to social conservatives in Iowa. He can talk to fiscal conservatives up in New Hampshire. He can talk to the 10th Amendment, Tea Party types down in South Carolina," Reid said. "That is a path to the nomination that nobody else has. Rick Perry can be the candidate for almost everybody.”
The GOP nomination, then, may be Perry’s to lose. But lose it he could. The three-term governor has never been vetted on the national political stage, where pitfalls abound and can derail even the most skilled campaigners. Newt Gingrich was a name to beat as recently as May. Now, pundits are betting not on if, but when, he'll drop out of the race.