UPDATE 1-U.S. Republican Rick Perry to drop strong 2012 hint
* May steal thunder from Iowa straw poll
* Remarks in South Carolina, then to New Hampshire
* Nudge Bachmann aside? (Adds analysts' comments, background)
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Rick Perry will signal plans to seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination at an event in South Carolina on Saturday, Republicans familiar with the plans said on Monday.
The Texas governor's appearance at a conservative conference coincides with a straw poll of Republican candidates in Iowa and his remarks could steal some of the thunder from his rivals competing in that event.
Two Republicans familiar with his plan said Perry would stop short of making a presidential announcement on Saturday but would drop a strong hint in remarks to a conference sponsored by RedState.com in Charleston.
Afterward, he is expected to travel to New Hampshire, which holds the country's first primary contest early next year. He is scheduled to address a Republican Party event in Birmingham, Alabama, on Friday night.
The straw poll in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday tests strength among Republican candidates in Iowa, whose caucuses in February will be the first election contest of the 2012 campaign.
Perry is not on the straw poll ballot because he was not an announced candidate when the contest was organized. Tea Party conservative candidate Michele Bachmann is leading Iowa polls.
A Republican familiar with Perry's plans said his South Carolina appearance would make a splash and compete with the Iowa news that day.
Planning is under way within the Perry campaign for an announcement tour with a formal announcement coming soon, the source said.
Perry's spokesman, Mark Miner, issued a statement that said Perry "is not a candidate for office at this time."
"With President Obama's dismal economic record, and Texas' success in creating jobs and balancing our budget, Governor Perry continues to consider a potential run for The White House. Stay tuned," Miner said.
Perry's entry into the race will add one more contender to a crowded field. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the front-runner and Perry would likely be seen as a conservative alternative to Romney.
Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Perry has the visibility and fund-raising network to make a late entry into the race.
"I think he has a shot at being the alternative to Mitt Romney. I think he shoulders Michele Bachmann aside. Then the question is does he have a second gear?" Jillson said.
Perry staged a day of prayer in Houston on Saturday, urging thousands to pray for Democratic President Barack Obama and bolstering his image with the Christian right.
He is the longest-serving governor in Texas history, taking over from George W. Bush after Bush won the 2000 presidential election.
At a time of economic turmoil across the country, Perry need only point to his home state. The Texas jobless rate was 7.7 percent in April, a sizable improvement over the national rate of 9.1 percent.
Louisiana pollster Bernie Pinsonat said Perry's credentials as an outspoken Christian will help him in the South.
"The South is looking for a candidate and Perry is the only real one. All the other candidates have limitations. If you can come up with a solid South, you're a major player. They don't fracture," he said. (Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore and Timothy Ryan; Editing by Philip Barbara and Cynthia Osterman)