Texas Gov. Rick Perry is expected to enter the Republican presidential primary race this month, in all likelihood after the Ames straw poll that is now less than two weeks away. He has gotten only a taste of what it’s going to be like once the national press corps descend on him. The issue for Perry remains the same: Is he ready for prime time?

So far, his biggest problem, oddly enough, has been the issue he’s best known for: defense of the 10th Amendment. He got tripped up on gay marriage, eventually suggesting a constitutional amendment that would deprive states of control over the issue. And again, he’s now had to go back to clarify his stance on abortion. A pro-life group is touting the following story in the Houston Chronicle:

Perry in Houston said that if the right to abortion were to be overturned, states should be allowed to make their own laws on the procedure, ABC news reported this week, quoting Perry this way:

“You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don’t. You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then [for] something that doesn’t suit you say, ‘We’d rather not have states decide that.’”

But apparently, he can.

His spokeswoman, Katherine Cesinger, said by e-mail today: “Gov. Perry is proudly pro-life and successfully championed strong pro-life legislation in Texas including parental consent, this year’s sonogram bill and a budget that significantly defunds abortions in Texas. The governor has long supported overturning Roe v. Wade, and would support amending the U.S. Constitution, with the backing of Congress and the states, to protect innocent life.”

It’s like his position on same-sex marriage. When Perry caused a flap among some conservatives by saying it was “fine with me” for New York to allow same-sex marriage, as was its right as a state, he came back and said he’s not okay with gay marriage itself, and that he favors a federal constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

So he’s for the 10th Amendment except when there is a position he really cares about with a strong conservative constituency? He’s going to have to explain that one.

Then there is his stance on the debt-ceiling deal. He is not alone in ducking and weaving, as I pointed out this morning in reference to Mitt Romney. In fact Perry sounds just like Romney, as the Austin Statesman reports:

A spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry would not directly say today whether Perry thinks members of Congress should vote for the debt-ceiling deal reached between Republicans and President Barack Obama.

Asked whether members of Congress should vote for the deal, Perry spokesman Mark Miner said, “The governor thinks the right track to go down is ‘cut, cap and balance.’ That was the approach he believed was best for the country.”

Good grief. It’s an epidemic of nonleadership.

The Texas media, not surprisingly, is already tallying up the problematic issues. The San Antonio Express-News asks which Perry will show up on the campaign trail:

There’s the Perry who said same-sex marriage is an issue for states to decide, and the one who emphasized his support for a U.S. constitutional amendment specifying that marriage is between a man and a woman.

There’s the Perry who’s promoted a focus on abstinence in sex education and gladdened social conservatives by pushing for abortion restrictions, and the one who tried to require preteen girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus linked to cancer.

There’s the Perry who stands by a law he signed allowing in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants, and the one who raised worries among Hispanics by championing failed anti-sanctuary-city legislation. . . .

“Texans are tolerant of much more ambiguity in their politicians ... than will be permitted by the rest of the country,” said Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political science professor.

Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said the vaccine issue was an example of being “on the side of protecting life.” She said the sanctuary-cities legislation was meant to give law enforcement officers needed tools, while tuition rates affect students “who want to rely on a good education instead of government services to provide for themselves.” . . . .

Dennis Goldford, professor of politics at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, called Perry’s position [on gay marriage] “apparently inconsistent” and cast it as, “‘I strongly believe in the 10th Amendment — except when I don’t.’”

The flap comes as voters are learning about Perry, who “is certainly not known to Iowa Republicans the way Sarah Palin is. He would certainly have to make his case,” Goldford said. “He’s got a great head of hair. But is there any ‘there’ under the hair?”

Well, that’s one way of putting it.

The challenge for Perry is not simply explaining nuances without sounding like a flip-flopper, but convincing voters that he has enough gravitas to go up against the president. So far he’s not done anything to put those fears to rest.