Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, will attempt to steal attention from Saturday’s much-anticipated Ames Straw Poll in Iowa by making stops in two early primary states, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Perry, who has been flirting with a candidacy for weeks, will attend the convention of the conservative blog RedState.com in Charleston, S.C., then jet north for a small event with party activists at the home of New Hampshire state Rep. Pamela Tucker.

The appearances, first reported Monday by Politico, will be the most definite step he has taken yet toward a run at the presidency, and he is likely to use the stops to hint at a candidacy he is almost certain to announce officially in the coming weeks.

Perry aides continued Monday to play coy about the governor’s 2012 intentions. His spokesman, Matt Miner, said in a statement: “The governor is not a candidate for office at this time,” but he added, “Stay tuned.”

Perry’s entrance into the race would quickly shake up a field that has left some Republicans cold, and his Saturday appearances could represent a political coup — sapping attention from whomever wins the Ames contest and blunting some of that person’s momentum.

Meanwhile, Perry’s appearances could also prove a boon in Iowa, where supporters of the Texas governor are encouraging those attending the straw poll to write in Perry’s name.

Perry is particularly popular among religious and tea party conservatives who aren’t enamored with the current GOP front-runner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, but he also has backing among more business-oriented Republicans, who praise his record of job creation in Texas.

Some polls show him already ahead of candidates who have been campaigning for months.

“I think it would be a big jolt to the race, a Southern and Western person, a successful governor, a guy who has some charisma — you put that into one package and it’s pretty exciting, and it could change the race,” said Shawn Steel, a member of the Republican National Committee who is considering backing Perry.

However, Perry would face significant challenges to the nomination. Many of the other GOP candidates have been fundraising for a 2012 campaign for months, and Romney reported having $12 million in the bank at the end of June. Meanwhile, so soon in the wake of President George W. Bush’s tenure, Perry would also face questions about whether voters are ready for another conservative Texan as president.

Perry has been meeting potential donors for weeks, and last weekend he helped organize a large rally, dubbed “The Response,” at which tens of thousands came to a football stadium in Houston to pray for America. The event, in which Perry gave a short speech highlighting his Christianity, was the largest any of the 2012 GOP candidates has held this year.

Perry’s tenure as governor of Texas — the longest in the state’s history — has included a number of controversies, from his push to mandate the vaccination of all girls entering sixth grade against the sexually transmitted virus HPV, to his attempts to overhaul the state’s higher-education system.

In the last few weeks, Perry has made comments that suggest he may not be fully versed on some issues he will likely face on the campaign trail. He suggested last month that the decision of the state of New York to allow same-sex marriage was “fine” with him, arguing it was the state’s right to set its own marriage laws. Many religious Republicans strongly object to that position, however, and Perry swiftly backtracked. He now says he would support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Staff writer Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.