Right Turn readers know my views on early, national polls — they are not predictive. That said, the surge by Gov. Rick Perry to the front of the pack raises expectations for him in debates and early primary states. If he doesn’t win Iowa, for example, is it a fatal blow? Does he have to win New Hampshire to knock out Mitt Romney? These are the questions that he and the other candidates will ponder.

Critical in all of this is not the national polls per se, but the primary calendar, which is still very much up in the air. If the states abide by the RNC rules the first four contests (with expected dates indicated) will be in Iowa (February 6), New Hampshire (February 14), Nevada (February 18) and South Carolina (February 28).

Now one or more other states (Arizona, Florida, etc.) might try to jump the line and risk losing delegates. But let’s assume those four are the starting states. If a candidate wins both Iowa and New Hampshire the momentum is certainly strongly on his or her side. But is there someone in the race who can do that? Perry would be the most likely to finish first in both, but New Hampshire may be a stretch for him. Just as it is a big risk for Romney to go at it too hard in Iowa and lose (although now as the underdog would a second place win impress voters and donors?), a loss for Perry in New Hampshire after a serious fight would take the luster off his frontrunner status.

It is presumed that Romney would win Nevada. South Carolina then becomes a dog fight with social conservatives including Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rick Santorum and maybe even Sarah Palin all battling it out. In 2008, the New Hampshire winner (Sen. John McCain) essentially ended the race with a win in South Carolina, but if there is not such a dominating figure this time, the race stays hot. We don’t know what happens next. Florida and Arizona may share a date. Michigan and Wisconsin would also jockey for placement. Eventually the race turns to Super Tuesday in early March with a batch of states.

You can understand why Romney would focus on New Hampshire, Nevada, Michigan, and Florida while Perry’s must-wins become Iowa and South Carolina. If this sounds like there is a potential for a long primary fight between two or more well-funded candidates with strengths in different geographic areas, you are right.

The primary calendar, the expectations placed on each candidate, the fall debates and of course the potential entry of Sarah Palin (complicating Iowa and South Carolina races) will influence who wins the race. National polls? Not so much.