Lots of chatter about Perry running again in 2010. The reason for the chatter, of course, is the amount of money, more than $800,000, that Perry raised in the short interval between the end of the twenty-day period for signing and vetoing bills on June 17 and the July 15 reporting deadline. The question is: Is the third-and-a-half term talk for real or just an effort to stave off lame-duck status? I would have said the latter, but then I had a conversation with a close and longtime friend of Perry’s, and he thinks Perry is seriously considering running again. “He got over a big hump last week,” I was told. “Anita’s on board.” OK, maybe I’m being played for a sucker — just tell me something and I’ll blog it — but if the chatter is all bluff, it’s working.

Look at the maneuvering over Perry’s veto of $153 million in health benefits for community colleges. It was a rotten veto, bad for the state, and the Legislative Budget Board is going to have to wire around it to provide the money, but Perry holds the trump card — LBB action requires his approval — and he’s going to get what he wants, which goes by the arcane term of “proportionality.” This means that the state pays for health benefits of community college employees who are paid with state funds, but the community colleges are supposed to use local funds (tuition, fees, and local property taxes) to pay for the health benefits of employees who are paid with local funds. The Legislature has chosen to ignore proportionality in recent years, knowing that it will surely result in higher tuition and fees, probably causing some students to drop out. But Perry will insist on it, and the third-term talk will ensure that he gets his way.

The point is: Do not underestimate him. I don’t think he’ll run again, mainly because I don’t think he can win. But he’s scared off Hutchison twice before, and no one else in the current crop of wannabes has a prayer of beating him for the GOP nomination, and the Democrats have a lot of work to do before they can win a statewide race–and who is to say that the field might not be split again in 2010, as it was in 06. Whatever else might be said about Perry, his political instincts are unerring (well, HPV excepted). I’m not writing off his chance to be on the national Republican ticket. The conservative base is so dispirited by the current field, and Perry has such a strong record from a conservative point of view, that I’d say his chances are better today than they have ever been.