ROCK HILL, S.C. – The Texas state legislature special session is over (without a win on the anti-TSA bill), and Texas Gov. Rick Perry will now enter the intensive phase of his deliberations over whether to run for president. As he does so, he will be closely watching two things: Michele Bachmann's grassroots excitement and Mitt Romney's money.
Bachmann's town hall event here Wednesday night drew a large crowd of around 800 people, forcing organizers to open four overflow rooms: a large amphitheater, a conference room and three small classrooms at Winthrop University.
As Bachmann took questions, a local political operative named Joe St. John –- a former Mike Huckabee supporter who identified himself Wednesday as working for Perry – moved around the room, taking photographs with a digital camera. St. John, who works for local and state political candidates, could not be reached for comment. His presence and affiliation with Perry was confirmed by others at the event.
Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop, speculated that St. John was gathering front line intelligence for the Texas governor about Bachmann's momentum, as well as potentially scoping out the contours of what a Perry event in the area would look like. But Perry adviser Dave Carney, who initially gave no comment when asked about St. John, said later that the operative was not employed by Perry.
Nonetheless, Huffmon said, someone like St. John "would work very hard to make sure there is a big crowd" if he was brought on board by Perry.
Glenn McCall, one of the state's three Republican National Committee members, warmed up the crowd for Bachmann before the event began, and said in an interview afterward that the crowd for the Tea Party favorite was "huge."
But McCall told HuffPost that Perry could outdo Bachmann.
"If Perry gets in the race, I think he will draw a bigger crowd than this," McCall said.
McCall also said that Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and current primary front-runner, could draw a crowd as big as Bachmann's.
Romney's money haul from the second quarter, which ends Thursday, is the other big item that Perry is eyeing. The Federal Elections Commission does not require second quarter reports to be submitted until July 15, so sometime between now and then, the political world will know how much cash Romney has added to his war chest.
The Romney campaign went out of its way to lower expectations for their take, telling The Wall Street Journal that it would be less than $20 million. Aides to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had been talking up Romney's number, telling reporters they expected him to raise as much as $40 million, in part to distract from their own candidate's woeful money performance. Pawlenty's number is expected to be around $4 million for the quarter.
Perry has the potential to raise large amounts of money to compete with Romney, but is appealing to Tea Party voters in a way that Romney is not. His executive experience would give him an edge over Bachmann with many GOP primary voters.
Carney, who is organizing Perry's decision-making process, told HuffPost in a recent interview that the Texan's assessment of whether to run will depend on whether it is physically possible to put the right amount of time toward raising money and meeting voters to stoke grassroots support.
In the meantime, Perry is not rushing to come to a decision because he wants to make sure he can make a serious run for the nomination, Carney said.
"This is a huge country and running for president, you need a lot of people to be for you," Carney said. "You can't just manufacture that overnight. You have to cultivate that and reach out to people. Most people aren't going to just take press clippings."
The delay in making a decision comes in part because lining up support is a time-consuming process. Reaching out to people over the phone requires staying in an office setting to avoid playing "phone tag."
"You can't start calling a bunch of people, political leaders and activists, and do it from your cellphone, because they've got to be able to get back to you. You've got to be in one place so people can reach you," he said.
This article has been updated to include comments about whether Joe St. John is employed by Gov. Rick Perry.