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Rick Perry's make-it-or-break-it debate? [The conversation]

September 7, 2011 |  2:57 pm

Rick Perry GOP debate

Rick Perry is leading in the polls, but is the GOP presidential candidate ready for his moment in the debate spotlight? There's no doubt that the governor of Texas is a confident speaker and that he can speak confidently about his record on creating jobs. Can he debate, though? That's the question of the day. And if he nails Wednesday night's GOP debate at the Reagan Library, he may just be on his way to winning the Republican nomination.

Perry changed the race, writes NPR's "Political Junkie" Ken Rudin. "Some say that the emergence of Perry may have been the best thing to have happened to [Mitt] Romney," who will now have to hustle.

It's a Perry-Romney race, analysts are saying. "Perry and Romney have already been bickering from afar," writes Reuters' Steve Holland. "Romney alluded to the Texas governor as a 'career politician' on a recent trip to Texas. The Perry campaign hit Romney's economic plan, saying when he was Massachusetts governor, he 'failed to institute many of the reforms he now claims to support.'"

If there's a third candidate, it's "tea party" darling Michele Bachmann. And she's going to have to work it. "For Bachmann, bashing President Obama and his agenda may no longer be enough," writes writes The Times' James Oliphant. "Her mission at the Reagan Library Wednesday will be to first, stop the bleeding. Second, she'll have to go after Perry, to do something to slow his momentum (as will Romney). Third, she'll have to make a renewed case as to why she, as a three-term congresswoman, not Perry, the Texas governor, or Romney, the former Massachusetts chief executive, should be the GOP nominee.  In doing so, she'll have to settle persistent doubts among conservatives about her experience, her discipline and her ability to lead."

Perry will have to watch out for moderator Brian Williams. Warns NewsBusters'  Geoffrey Dickens: "If recent performances by the NBC Nightly News anchor are an indication, candidates (particularly those favored by the Tea Party) should recognize his hostility to their agenda and be prepared for a number of topics and questions from the left."

Perry can tout his job-creation record in Texas, but he can't speak on a concrete jobs plan for the country.  This could hurt him, says Rachel Rose Hartman of Yahoo's the Ticket: "Romney and Huntsman have each released a jobs plan, but their plans have also given their opponents something to criticize at the debate. Even the candidates without detailed proposals will be judged on what they say about this issue, what concrete ideas they offer and how they contrast themselves with the president."

In fact, Perry doesn't seem to have much of an economic plan either. "The two candidates’ approaches to economics are illustrative," writes the Washington Post's Dana Milbank. "Perry has no plan, other than this bit of bluster he produced last week: 'No. 1 is don't spend all the money -- you can figure out what that means. You won't have stimulus programs under a Perry presidency.' "

Perry's experience could hurt him, writes PostOpinions' Ruth Marcus. And Romney and Sarah Palin agree. "The marvelous paradox of politics is that it is the only field in which lack of experience is considered a job qualification. Or, conversely, in which extensive experience is cited as a negative. Consider Mitt Romney's latest line, a none-too-subtle jab at Texas Gov. Rick Perry: 'Career politicians got us into this mess and career politicians can't get us out!' Sarah Palin took a similar swipe in Perry's direction, inveighing against a 'permanent political class.' "

What else could hurt Perry? His record on immigration. "While the Tea Party is nominally focused on economic and budgetary issues, Tea Party activists tend to be conservative on social and cultural issues like any other group of right-wing Republicans," writes the Nation's Ben Adler. "So Perry's former moderation on immigration and his heretical support for protecting Texan girls from cancer are particular sore spots. 'I actually think Perry's going to answer a lot of tough question: his stances on border control, his HPV vaccinations program,' says Rhodes. 'He's been a governor for a long time and in doing that he is going to face a challenge.' "

Actually, his record on immigration could win him the nomination and the presidential race, writes Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal. "The other major asset that Perry brings to the table in a general election is immigration. The Republican nominee's ability to connect with Hispanic voters, concentrated in battleground states like Nevada, Colorado, and Florida, is critical to winning the White House in 2012 and beyond. Perry brings a track record of Hispanic outreach in Texas, and he carried 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2010 against Democrat Bill White, in line with George W. Bush’s performance as governor," says Kraushaar, who later details what he thinks is a winning strategy for Perry. "Pair Perry on the presidential ticket with an up-and-coming Hispanic running mate such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida or New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, and the Hispanic vote is squarely in play. Gallup found Obama's approval among Hispanics down to 44 percent. If Obama can't win over a clear majority of Hispanics, ball game's over."

"Trash talker" Perry will nail it. Anyone who's counting on Perry showing up this evening and tripping over himself, in the style of George W. Bush, is in for an unpleasant surprise. Perry has occasionally been a lazy debater and he is sometimes lackadaisical about keeping informed, but he has cultivated a number of rhetorical strengths," writes the New Republic's Erica Grieder. "In the early stages, however, his sunny side will serve him well. For his first debate, we can expect the other candidates to be on the attack against him. But we can also predict that he will be prepared, and will acquit himself more ably than his critics hope. Debating may not be Perry's strongest suit, but in this respect, as in most, past rivals who have discounted Perry have done themselves no favor."


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-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry, center, arrives for a Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library on Sept. 7. Credit: Chris Carlson / Associated Press

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