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The Brief: Sept. 22, 2011

Gov. Rick Perry heads into his third presidential debate with a slight polling problem.

Gov. Rick Perry talks with Greene County Republicans in Jefferson, Iowa, on Sept. 15, 2011.

The Big Conversation:

Gov. Rick Perry heads into his third presidential debate with a slight polling problem.

Coming off two uneven debate performances, Perry — back in the ring tonight in Orlando — seems to have lost only minimal ground to Mitt Romney, his chief Republican rival. Polling averages show that since Perry's first debate, on Sept. 7, Romney has only gained about 3 points on Perry, cutting Perry's lead from 11 points to 8 points.

Perry's standing, though, among general election voters appears to have dropped appreciably.

As Nate Silver of The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog reports, since the first debate, the average amount of Americans who view Perry unfavorably has risen about 9 points, from 29 percent to 38 percent. Because Perry's numbers with Republicans have held steady, the drop could likely be attributed to Democrats and independents.

Perry has also lost ground in general-election matchups against President Obama. Before the debates, Perry trailed Obama by an average of 3 points, 46 to 43 percent, with some polls even showing Perry slightly ahead. But in post-debate polls, Obama now leads Perry 49 to 42 percent on average.

Silver notes that such hypothetical matchups can often underestimate support for candidates with lower name recognition, like Perry. But the decline in the governor's approval numbers as he has increased his visibility spells potential trouble for his campaign.

Silver writes: "It seems possible that if Mr. Perry is the nominee and if economic performance continues to be sluggish, we could wind up with an incumbent president whose disapproval rating is at or above 50 percent matched up against a Republican opponent whose unfavorable rating is also in the 50s. There’s not a lot of historical guidance on what might happen between this proverbial rock and hard place."

As for tonight's debate in Florida, sponsored by Fox News, Google and the Florida Republican Party (and beginning at 8 p.m. Central), the Tribune's Jay Root reports that the stakes have risen significantly for Perry, who took a beating in last week's CNN/Tea Party Express debate. The governor, as one political scientist puts it, needs a “steady performance, fewer gaffes and to keep his Texas-sized feet out of his mouth.”

Culled:

  • As the Trib's Reeve Hamilton and Emily Ramshaw reported, Jay Kimbrough, deputy chancellor of the Texas A&M System, was abruptly fired on Wednesday — then reportedly escorted out of the building after revealing a pocketknife during a discussion about his termination with the system's general counsel. "I was just joking," said Kimbrough, Gov. Rick Perry's longtime friend and former chief of staff. "I was just saying I was not going to be intimidated." Kimbrough acknowledged that his relationship with the newly appointed system chancellor, John Sharp, a former political rival of Perry's, had been strained. In an email to system employees on Wednesday night, Sharp wrote: "I wish to thank Jay Kimbrough for his service in that role during my initial days as Chancellor. I wish him the best in his future endeavors."
  • Gov. Rick Perry's new financial disclosures, while exposing no major revelations about Perry's finances, have revealed potential conflicts of interest, critics say, including Perry's ownership interest in a natural gas company founded by one of the governor's top appointees. The Trib's Jay Root reports.
  • In other worrisome polling news for Rick Perry, a Suffolk University survey released Wednesday shows Mitt Romney trouncing Perry in New Hampshire, with Romney at 41 percent to Perry's 8 percent. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul places second with 14 percent, and even long-shot Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, has pulled ahead of Perry with 10 percent. Perry has long been expected to fare much better in other early-voting states like Iowa and South Carolina.
  • Lawrence Russell Brewer, one of the white supremacists responsible for the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, was executed Wednesday night, the second inmate Texas has put to death in the past month. In the past week, two Texas inmates have also received death penalty reprieves from the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Sure I displayed it, yes. But I do that 20 times a week. I do it when someone needs to cut a watermelon."Jay Kimbrough, deputy chancellor of the Texas A&M System, on the pocketknife that reportedly got him escorted out of a building Wednesday after being fired

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