Live coverage: GOP debate at Dartmouth College
But then Gov. Perry went head to head with his Republican rivals in a series of debates, and took a battering. They questioned his claims of creating jobs in the Texas economy. They denounced his decision to vaccinate schoolgirls against the human papilloma virus. And they hounded him for supporting in-state tuition at state colleges for illegal immigrants -- drawing from a rattled Perry the charge that anyone who disagreed with him didn't "have a heart."
Unfortunately for Perry, most of the GOP electorate appeared to put themselves in that camp. The once high-flying governor began looking less like a superstar and more like an American Idol also-ran.
Which brings us to the storyline of Tuesday’s New Hampshire debate: Can Perry get off the ropes and turn himself into the Comeback Kid? Can Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann take his place as the Great Conservative Hope? Or is this the night Mitt Romney, once again the unloved front-runner, begins to put the nomination away? (Or not; we're still at least two months from a real vote being cast.)
The debate at Dartmouth University, the Ivy League's capital of conservative thought, is the first to focus on a specific subject, to wit, the economy.
It's both the most important issue the candidates face and the one least suited to the current format, which leaves the candidates little time to explain the nuances of their thinking. Not that presidential campaigns are nuance fests; candidates seem to revel in the simplicity of their ideas. Witness the 11-point plan that Bachmann unveiled today for creating jobs, which she boiled down this way: “We need to cut government spending, legalize America’s God-given natural resources, and stop taxing investment and productivity.”
Although her plan has fewer points than some of her rivals’, the main features are the same. Here’s hoping the debate will highlight the differences.
--Doyle McManus and Jon Healey
Photo: Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, prepares for a presidential debate sponsored by Bloomberg and The Washington Post held at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire on Oct. 11. Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg