As the Republican presidential candidates gather for their second televised debate in New Hampshire tomorrow night, all eyes will be on Rick Perry—the media-made “rock star” candidate that was supposedly going to give Obama his final blow in his presidential reelection bid.
Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, has been going from blunder to blunder as he struggles feebly to live up to expectations. According to the latest polls, Perry’s standing is steadily dwindling, and some observers are even talking about a possible collapse of his campaign. He lost his position as the front-runner in 2012 polls in recent weeks, amid criticism over his uneven debate performances.
His open association with the religious right dreads many mainstream Republicans. Just last Friday, Perry made the big news when a zealous pastor introduced him during a campaign event. It was the same pastor who called the Mormons a religious cult. Perry tried and failed to repair damage.
His position on Social Security, which he’s described as a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie” that ought to be administered by the 50 states instead of the federal government, will almost certainly come under scrutiny at the debate. His support for allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Texas public universities is also likely to come up, as his rivals have cast the policy as fiscally unwise.
Bloomberg and the Washington Post will host a forum dedicated solely to the economy.
At the last three debates, Perry has struggled to defend his policies, and he has also had trouble delivering scripted attacks against Mitt Romney, his leading opponent for the Republican presidential nomination. The answer could determine the fate of his campaign for the White House. While Perry raised $17 million in his first weeks as a presidential candidate, money alone won’t allow the Texas governor to overcome skepticism among Republican voters and party insiders about his ability to defeat President Barack Obama. Only a strong debate showing and a steady grasp of issues can do that. If Perry can’t regain momentum now, he will not be able to recover.
The Texas governor’s campaign is taking the moment seriously. Since last month’s disastrous Florida debate, Perry has taken time away from campaign events to work on debate preparations and to retool his message offer sharper explanations of his positions. Later this week, he’ll deliver what a campaign source describes as a “significant” economic speech in Pittsburgh focusing on energy and jobs—a sign that Perry knows he can’t simply rely on his record in Texas to carry him through the nomination fight.
Perry’s campaign is by all account on shaky ground. The question is: will he bounce back tomorrow night?