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Top Rick Perry Adviser Says 2012 Decision Still 'Weeks' Away, Calls Recent Press Coverage 'Crazy'

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WASHINGTON -- Though a close adviser says otherwise, Texas Gov. Rick Perry may soon have another reason to jump into the Republican presidential primary: a woeful fundraising report from Tim Pawlenty.

Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, is expected to show a haul of somewhere around $5 million for the period from April to June. That won't come close to matching the $10 million that front-runner Mitt Romney raised over the course of just one day in May. There is talk among campaign aides that Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, may hit as high as $40 million for the year's second quarter, though Romney aides downplayed that figure as "not a real number."

But Perry's top political adviser, Dave Carney, said in an interview with The Huffington Post Friday that he is "flabbergasted" by the flippant conversation about whether or not Perry will run.

"This is all a figment of people's imaginations," Carney said of recent reports that Perry is certain to run. "We haven't had a serious sit-down conversation about it yet."

"All this talk is crazy, to think that you would do this and run your family and your reputation through this Cuisinart blender, just because a few people are cheering you on," he said.

Carney, a New Hampshire-based consultant, was part of this month's mass exodus of top advisers from Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign. He has worked for Perry since 1998. He said a decision on whether the Texas governor will run is still "weeks" away.

Carney said he is currently making preparations for serious talks with the governor that will begin next week, after the state legislature's special session is scheduled to conclude.

"It's going to take a while and we're not going to be able to tell you some mysterious date of announcing. We don't even have a clue whether this is going to be feasible or not," he said. "This is the equivalent of taking a billion dollar corporation from zero to a billion in something like 18 months. You don't just do that by just chatting about it. You have to know what the temperature of the water is."

Carney has said that Perry's ability to raise money is a key part of the calculus. But he expanded on that Friday, explaining that much of the fundraising determination is based on how many events will require Perry's physical presence.

"Do we have enough enthusiasm that we can raise money without the candidate being there for five events a day?" he asked. "Even a Texan can only be at one place at a time."

Perry has been able to raise large amounts of money for gubernatorial campaigns, but presidential politics is a more difficult playing field. While there are no contribution limits for Texas gubernatorial candidates, individuals are limited to $2,500 in donations to presidential campaigns each election, though there are multiple ways around that restriction.

Carney said Perry is willing to miss the boat, preferring to go through the process the right way, rather than rushing in unprepared.

"It may be that we run out of time," he said. "It may be a process that we squander all these days working on it and thinking about it and the voters move on. But that's preferable to getting in and finding out there's not the resources to do it."

Carney said Pawlenty's fundraising troubles are not a factor in Perry's calculations.

"This has nothing to do with any of the other Republican candidates," he said. "This is whether or not we are able to put together the political and financial infrastructure within a very short time period ... [and] raise millions of dollars necessary to be competitive and have time left over to campaign and get your message out there."

Yet Pawlenty's travails are another sign that many on the right have yet to settle on a horse in this race. Romney has been firming up his lead over the rest of the field with a disciplined and focused early campaign. His debate performance in New Hampshire last week helped him, and the fundraising numbers will widen his lead.

One Romney adviser told HuffPost that "Perry's going to find, like Haley Barbour found, that it's harder than it looks" to launch a campaign for president.

But serious reservations and doubts about Romney remain among some in the Republican establishment, and even more among the conservative grassroots.

Pawlenty has been considered the candidate with the best chance to challenge Romney. But he performed badly during the New Hampshire debate. A poor fundraising total will only increase the perception that he is a weak candidate.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is gaining steam but has yet to prove she can organize a serious ground campaign or tap big-money donors. Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is well connected to wealthy political givers, but is not competing for Tea Party voters.

Perry could raise a lot of money, would appeal to the Tea Party in a way Huntsman does not, is charismatic and dynamic in a way that Pawlenty is not, and has the executive appearance that Bachmann lacks.

"He's tea party, second amendment, right to life, and he's a great performer with a real economic growth and job creation story out of Texas," said Scott Reed, a veteran Republican consultant who was set to manage Haley Barbour's presidential campaign before the Mississippi governor decided not to run. "[Perry]'s got all the ingredients to consolidate the right."

"[Perry advisers] say they're worried about their ability to raise the money, but the fact is it's a pretty wide open race on the right," Reed said.

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