Even though he is still undecided, Gov. Rick Perry has vaulted into the upper-crust of potential GOP candidates in Sabato's Crystal Ball, an online election analysis headed by much-quoted political observer Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
The rankings handicapped the prospects of 11 announced and non-announced candidates and listed three in descending order in the top tier - Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, the perceived Republican front-runner, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and Perry.
A thumbs-up icon, which designated candidates who are gaining momentum, was displayed alongside all three of the first tier candidates. The breakdown also listed strengths and weaknesses.
Perry, the only first-tier designee who is not officially in the race, was scored favorably for being the governor of a mega-state who is long on electoral experience, a DC outsider and able to raise big bucks in Texas. His disadvantages included mixed popularity back home, comments about secession, his status as a newcomer to national scrutiny and potential Texas fatigue after two Bush administrations.
Romney was ranked favorably for a strong business background in a bad economy and for his past presidential campaign experience, but he lost points for his "Romneycare" health plan and weak frontrunner status. Bachmann's advantages included strong Tea Party support and a good media presence. But she was also described as highly controversial and unlikely to win in the fall general election.
Another Texan, Congressman Ron Paul, was placed in the lowest category - third tier - along with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and former Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana, who was at the bottom of the list. The analysis showed Paul with a thumbs-up in momentum, while Gingrich had a thumbs-down.
The second tier candidates were former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, businessman Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman, former ambassador to China.
Kyle Kondik, political analyst for Sabato's Crystal Ball, said the continually updated run-down is "just sort of our perception of where the race is based on what we've read, what we've heard and what the polls said.
"It's not scientific," he said. "It's sort of our collective observation."
-- Dave Montgomery