With Rick Perry's sudden surge in the polls, all sorts of scenarios are unfolding in the Republican presidential nominating contest.
Perry looks almost certain to take on Michele Bachmann in a serious way in Iowa. That contingency creates a major new temptation for Mitt Romney to jump into a serious campaign for the First-in-the-Nation Caucuses. If he does, he could theoretically watch Perry and Bachmann split the hard-core right-wing vote, and slip through to a victory that could produce an early knockout blow to the field, a la Kerry 2004. And if he doesn't, he runs the risk of a Perry win that could position the Texan to pull off an upset in New Hampshire and then deliver his own knockout blow in South Carolina.
But all these scenarios could get weird if the caucus-primary calendar gets weird. And that's entirely possible.
At the moment, Florida's poised to hold its primary on January 31, 2012, which would almost automatically push the current early states back into early-to-mid January 2012. But as the reigning expert on these matters, Josh Putnam of Frontloading HQ, notes, Florida is legally authorized to schedule its primary as early as January 3--the first Thursday of January--which because of the holidays could push the Iowa Caucuses all the way back to December 5, 2011. We probably won't know for sure until October 1, which is Florida's state law deadline for setting a primary date.
This creates a pretty scary strategic scenario for Perry, and even more so for Romney. Preparing for the contingency of a December 5 Caucus--just three-and-a-half months from now--would force Perry to get a move on to catch up with Michelle Bachmann's and Ron Paul's organizational head starts in Iowa, and would also force Romney to fish or cut bait on a serious Iowa campaign. The closer we get to October 1 without a resolution on the caucus-and-primary calendar, the more candidates have to assume it's all going down crazy early. So the worlds of time, space and strategy are rapidly colliding.