Rick Perry is apparently telling reporters that he’ll skip New Hampshire and make a last stand in South Carolina.

Two things. First, presidential candidates always say that they’re going to stay in the race no matter what. Everyone should ignore those claims; they are necessary to make (more or less), but they aren’t binding. Unless Perry finishes a strong fourth or better, I expect him to end his campaign. There’s a certain amount of individual preference on these types of decisions (that is, about ending campaigns), but not all that much…it wouldn’t be shocking if Perry insisted on getting clobbered in South Carolina, but it’s not very likely. Assuming, that is, that he doesn’t wind up doing better than the polling predicts.

Unless of course he does better than current polling shows in Iowa. Which is still possible, although less and less likely.

The second thing is that skipping New Hampshire is as much of an implausible strategy as skipping Iowa. Neither make any sense. That doesn’t mean candidates have to go all-in on these early states, but they really do have to compete there.

The Santorum/Huntsman situation is a good example of that. Santorum may or may not wind up coming close to the nomination, but if he finishes in the top three in Iowa (as currently looks very likely), he’s going to get a bump elsewhere. What about Huntsman, however? He’s totally off the radar this week. He’s been totally off the radar for the last month. He won’t get a mention tomorrow night when TV and the rest of the press cover Iowa. He’s unlikely to be subject to very much media attention over the next few days, either. And so it wouldn’t be at all surprising if someone who has done little in New Hampshire so far overtakes him with a post-Iowa surge.

Consider what would be happening if Huntsman had focused on Iowa and Santorum skipped it and gone to New Hampshire. We’ll never know whether Huntsman would have rallied, but certainly Santorum would not have. You just can’t skip the key early states if you want to have any hope of being the nominee.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.