There are potential Republican presidential candidates still on the sidelines (e.g. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. Paul Ryan) who could conceivably skip Iowa, throw themselves into the New Hampshire race, and by winning or coming very close to the front-runner Mitt Romney be off and running on the path to the nomination. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is probably not one of those people.

Perry will need to run to the right of Romney, beat out the right’s new darling Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and, as many candidates have done, seal the deal in South Carolina or Florida. But can he do that without winning in Iowa? I am not sure he can, and that’s a problem, if reports are accurate that he “is still ‘at least weeks’ away from making a decision about whether to run for president, a daunting financial and logistical undertaking even without the time pressures of a late entry.”

If he’s weeks away from getting into the race, he won’t announce until July. That would make participation in the Ames straw poll on August 13 virtually impossible. With no organization on the ground, could he then put together a caucus victory that would displace Bachmann from the uber-conservative-not-Romney position? Tim Pawlenty would also be in the mix, and has the benefit of perhaps the best developed ground game at this stage.

Perry would sort of be damned if he does (enter Iowa and lose to Bachmann and/or other opponents) and damned if he doesn’t (Bachmann or Pawlenty gain momentum heading into Iowa). And New Hampshire is probably the least friendly early primary state for him. He’s strong on social issues; many in the Granite State lean libertarian. He slams the Democrats and weak-kneed Republicans; New Hampshire allows independents and Democrats to vote. Perry gives fiery speeches, but he’s not known as a policy maven; New Hampshire-ites expect loads of town halls and coffees where they can quiz the candidate on everything from the flat tax to waste and abuse in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What then would be his first clear shot — South Carolina? It’s sounding a little bit Rudy Giulianish (waiting too long to impress takes you out of contention).

Had Bachmann bombed in last week’s debate, it might be a different story. But you can understand the deliberateness of the Perry team’s analysis. Where to compete is almost as difficult a decision as whether to compete.