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The Decision: Rick Perry edition

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference on Saturday in New Orleans. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Texas Gov. Rick Perry is beginning to sound more and more like a presidential candidate, even as his advisers insist he remains several weeks — at least — away from a decision on the race.

“When the current [legislative] session wraps up, he will take a systematic look at what it would take to enter the race and mount a competitive effort,” said Perry chief political strategist Dave Carney. Carney added that “not much has changed” in the governor’s thinking of late.

But, at this past weekend’s Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Perry’s speech certainly had all the elements of a man getting ready to run.

“Our goal is to displace the entrenched powers in Washington, restore the right balance between state and federal government,” Perry said, adding: “We now live in this strange, inverted version of what our founders intended.”

That message seems perfectly pitched to the current state of the Republican primary electorate, which has grown increasingly alienated from and fed up with the political establishment -- of both parties — in the nation’s capital.

Still, Carney told reporters over the weekend that Perry is “weeks away” from a final decision, and the special legislative session in the Lone Star State is expected to last another 10 days (or so).

Carney said the work of the next few weeks will be analyzing whether Perry could raise the money and put together organizations in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Recent history would suggest that a Southern, social conservative like Perry would a somewhat obvious path to relevance in that trio of states.

The last two winners of contested Iowa caucuses were Southerners; then-Texas governor George W. Bush won in 2000 and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee emerged victorious in 2008.

The New Hampshire Republican primary has been less friendly to sons of the South, but it will be followed in (relatively) short order by the South Carolina primary, where Perry would be a clear favorite.

(While Arizona Sen. John McCain won the South Carolina primary in 2008, the two southern candidates — Huckabee and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson — combined to take 46 percent of the vote, finishing second and third, respectively.)

After South Carolina, the nomination fight is likely to move to Florida, where Perry’s Southern bona fides and fundraising ability — he raised better than $40 million for his 2010 re-election race — would ensure he would be a major player.

Perry certainly seems to be moving toward running — particularly given that as recently as a month ago he insisted he had no interest in the race. But, sounding like a candidate and being one are two different things, with very different levels of commitment. Perry is still in the former camp, but the next few weeks should tell us if he’s staying there.

DSCC outraises NRSC in May: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised its GOP counterpart in May, pulling in $4.1 million while the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $3.1 million. So far this year, Democratic group has raised $18.6 million to the Senate Repubicans’ $17.8 million.

“The game-changer this last month was the Republican plan to end Medicare,” said DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil. “It is helping motivate Democratic donors in every corner of the country, helping us outraise the Republicans and surpass our own fundraising goals.”

Republicans point out that the NRSC is the first campaign committee to pay off all its debt from the last cycle. The NRSC has also raised $5 million more this year than the committee did by May in 2007. Of course, 2007 was a low point for the NRSC and the GOP broadly.

Republicans pick Amodei for Nevada special election: Nevada GOP leaders have nominated former state party chairman Mark Amodei for the special election to the seat formerly held by appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

Amodei easily disposed of competition that included former Navy Commander Kirk Lippold and state Sen. Greg Brower. And he wasted no time launching an advertising campaign, going up with an ad similar to the famous “Chinese professor” ads.

Amodei has also served as a state senator and ran briefly for the nomination to face Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last year.

Lippold has said he still may run if the state Supreme Court opens the race up to all candidates. A decision on the state’s not-so-clear special election rules is due in by July 6.

On the Democratic side, state Treasurer Kate Marshall is favored to win her party’s nomination when party leaders meet on Saturday.

Hatch polling trouble: We’ve known for a while that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) faces a battle for the GOP nomination, but could the general election be tough too?

A new Dan Jones and Associates poll for the Deseret News and KSL-TV shows Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) tied with Hatch, at 47 percent apiece. Matheson is a popular Blue Dog congressman and son of a former governor who has said he might run for governor or Senate in 2012.

More broadly, 59 percent of Utahns say they would like a new senator.

For the GOP nomination, Rep. Jason Chaffetz is close to Hatch as well, with Hatch taking a 47 percent-to-44 percent lead. Of course, Utah features an odd nominating process in which a primary is only needed if no candidate gets 60 percent of the vote at the state party convention.

Fixbits:

Filmmaker and Sarah Palin support John Ziegler reiterates that he thinks she can’t win the presidential race.

Jon Stewart does “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace.

Former wrestling executive and 2010 Connecticut GOP Senate nominee Linda McMahon will decide on a repeat bid after the New Year.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says the GOP presidential field is dabbling too much in isolationism.

The NRSC releases a video pointing out that many Democratic senators were once against raising the debt ceiling.

Former White House counsel C. Boyden Gray will head up Jon Huntsman’s policy effort.

Must-reads:

GOP splitting over U.S. role in Libya and Afghanistan” — Christi Parsons and Lisa Mascaro, Los Angeles Times

Huntsman Is Set to Run as Outsider on the Inside” — Jim Rutenberg, New York Times

Texan Perry Sizes Up Roadblocks to GOP Bid” — Neil King Jr. and Patrick O’Connor, Wall Street Journal

Retracing Pawlenty’s fiscal legacy” — Kevin Diaz, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Michele Bachmann, others raise millions for political campaigns with ‘money blurts’” — Dan Eggen, The Washington Post

Bachmann playing with House money” — Paul Singer, CQ-Roll Call

Let’s talk about redistricting” -- Nate Silver, New York Times

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