AMES, Iowa -- The specter of Rick Perry was present in the media's spin room after the debate, in the form of representatives from one of the groups that will -- very soon -- succeed in drafting the governor of Texas into the race. There were more cameras pointed at Americans for Rick Perry's representatives than there were at, for example, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., even though he's actually a presidential candidate. This was the final debate before Perry enters the race, and it wrapped around 38 hours before he's set to announce... something... in South Carolina, right as the Ames straw poll is happening. And then he'll fly to Michele Bachmann's home city of Waterloo.
"I think Gov. Perry has got a strategy of planning an announcement right in the middle of the straw poll, here in Iowa," groused Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa., a friend of Bachmann. "That's got to be his strategy to diminish the effect of the straw poll. And then, to turn around the next day and come here to Iowa and go to the very city, the building, where Congresswoman Bachmann announced her campaign -- that's not going to be considered subtle in Iowa. It may be considered subtle in Texas, but not here in Iowa."
Matt Strawn, chairman of the state GOP, was perfectly diplomatic about the Perry Conundrum.
"He'll be here on Sunday," said Strawn, "and Iowans will have ample opportunity to hear from him. Based on my conversations from those around him, he understands the Iowa caucus process is one that demands heavy campaigning." Was Perry insulting Iowa? Nooooo. "Without the straw poll and the related events here, you probably wouldn't have Gov. Palin coming here on Friday, and you wouldn't have Gov. Perry coming here after he leaves South Carolina."
Perry's game is messing up the usual game -- pretending that your candidate can't place high in the straw poll, as to lower expectations when he does a little better. King played the game anyway. If there was low turnout on Saturday, Ron Paul could win the poll.
"He's spent five years working on it," said King. "He should not be underestimated." Message: If Bachmann beats him, forget for a minute that Romney pulled out.
Paul's team isn't predicting a win -- who would? -- but they're having some fun with the candidate's new relevance. The most common question tossed over to Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, in the spin room, was a version of: "What did you make of Rick Santorum's attack on your father?"
"You know," said Paul, "I'd rather not talk about other candidates, particularly if they don't have a chance of winning. I think there are some other significant candidates and significant issues, but I didn't really see that as one."