GOP candidate field getting higher profile

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s recent acknowledgement that ‘I’m going to think about it,’ shook up the GOP 2012 presidential race last week.

WASHINGTON -- The still unsettled race for the Republican nomination to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012 is getting more interesting.

After months of resisting calls to join the contest, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Friday he would consider it. That could reshape the GOP field, adding a sitting governor who has never lost an election.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin also sent a jolt through the party with the announcement of a campaign-style bus tour along the East Coast, the latest possible contender to stand up since Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels announced that he would not run.

And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is heading to New Hampshire this week, further stirring speculation that he will jump into the still-gelling field.

Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, would bring conservative bona fides, a proven fundraising record and a fresh voice. Even as Perry's closest advisers have said he has no intention of running, he has methodically raised his profile, fanning interest.

"I'm going to think about it," Perry said Friday.

That was enough to set off speculation that he would jump into a campaign that lacks a clear front-runner. Social conservatives still are shopping for a candidate, and tea party activists want one of their own. Establishment Republicans remain divided on a choice.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is the closest to a favorite at this point. Like Giuliani, he ran for the nomination in 2008, losing to Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Romney will formally kick off his campaign in the early primary state of New Hampshire on Thursday, the same day that Giuliani is now scheduled to headline a fundraiser for the state Republican Party and have lunch with several GOP activists.

Evangelicals who dominate the Iowa and South Carolina nominating contests are unlikely to back Romney or former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman; some of them call the two men's shared Mormon faith a disqualifier.

Twice-divorced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also has problems, although Gingrich is quick to note that he has been with his third wife for more than a decade.

Last month, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, fresh off a turn as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said he wouldn't make a White House bid; that unlocked many of the donors for Perry.

It also opened the door for a sought-after Southern candidate.

While Gingrich is running his campaign from Georgia, he has lived near Washington for decades and is hardly the regional candidate Perry could be.

Still, Perry for months has insisted that he had no interest in a White House bid. "I don't want to be the president of the United States," he said flatly in November.