Gov. Rick Perry headed into his third Republican presidential debate with a lot to prove. He left with a mixed bag. 

Compared with previous efforts, he had better-rehearsed counterpoints to some of his biggest vulnerabilities, like his decision to make the HPV vaccine mandatory, and to authorize in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. And he'd prepared some key attacks, on his lead opponent Mitt Romney's apparent support for Race to the Top, President Obama's competition for public education funding, and on the former Massachusetts governor's state health insurance mandate, nicknamed "Romneycare."

But he continued to show that debates are not his strong suit, stumbling verbally, pausing at strange times and becoming repeatedly tongue-twisted in his answers. And while he and Romney consistently tried to paint each other as flip-floppers, copying each other's lines on having double identities, Perry seemed caught in the headlights on questions on Texas' poor rate of health insurance and his purportedly icy relationship with former President George W. Bush. 

Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior Romney adviser, called Perry "unprepared to lead."

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"Some of his answers to questions were rambling and incoherent," Fehrnstrom said. "He was asked a question about how he would handle a 3 a.m. phone call about a nuclear weapon emergency in Pakistan and he was talking about selling planes to India. It was completely unintelligible." 

But Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the Texas governors attacks on Romney were right on. 

Romney "has a serious track record of taking multiple positions on the same issue," Miner said. "...Mitt Romney seems very uncomfortable in a Republican primary and that was on display here tonight."

Perry's strongest lines of the night surfaced in areas he was prepared for. When he was attacked for offering in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants, Perry started by explaining at length his work to secure the border, then accused opponents of "having no heart" for wanting to keep kids who had ended up in Texas through no fault of their own away from an education. He said in no uncertain terms that he still stood by his decision. He also expressed his support for Arizona's extra-tough immigration laws, despite the fact that he has consistently said they wouldn't work in Texas.  

On HPV, Perry stood firm, saying he'd made a mistake, but repeating his line that he will "always err on the side of life." Speaking of the opt-out provision that existed in his order, which he now says should have been opt-in, Perry quipped, "I don't know what part of opt-out most parents don't get." 

But he had trouble when asked to explain why Texas has the highest rate of the uninsured in the U.S. He went off on a tangent about the Medicaid waiver Texas asked the federal government for under Bush and Obama, a measure that neither administration supported because it would've endangered eligibility and enrollment levels. 

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In a line of questioning about Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts, Perry stumbled again, trying to portray Romney as a flip-flopper in comments that didn't seem to make sense: "I think Americans just don’t know sometimes which Mitt Romney they’re dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of — against the — Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it before he was before the social programs from the standpoint of he was for standing up for Roe v. Wade before he was against Roe v. Wade? He was for Race to the Top – he’s for Obamacare and now he’s against it – I mean we’ll wait until tomorrow and see which Mitt Romney we’re really talking to tonight."

Perry also had a couple of fact-check foibles on Thursday night. On Social Security, he said "we never said we were going to move this back to the states," despite the fact that he has proposed such an idea in his 2010 book "Fed Up," and in televised interviews. During the debate, he said it was just an option.

In defense of his controversial executive order to require young girls to receive an HPV vaccine, Perry said he was "lobbied" by a woman with Stage 4 cervical cancer. According to a 2007 Texas Weekly article, Perry was not introduced to 31-year-old Heather Burcham until after he had already issued the order, and overturning it was being debated by the Texas Legislature.

When asked about job creation in Texas, Perry spoke of tort reform, which he has said has encouraged more doctors to move to Texas. PolitiFact reported in August that Perry's claim that doctors have moved to Texas because of tort reform is only partially true, and was largely driven by population growth. 

And in a line of questioning about his relationship with Bush, Perry, who said the two talk on a "relatively regular basis," said he and Bush disagreed on No Child Left Behind. "The federal government has no business telling the states how to educate our children," Perry said. But Perry accepted financing for the education program as governor. This fiscal year, Texas received $2.03 billion in No Child Left Behind financing.  

Liveblog

by Emily Ramshaw
We're just under 10 minutes away from debate go-time.
by Emily Ramshaw
Rick Perry's the first one introduced with a big thumbs up.
by Emily Ramshaw
Perry gets first question about job growth. He says he has inspired new businesses to relocate and produce jobs by lowering the tax burden and passing sweeping tort reform. "You'll see a more extensive jobs plan," Perry says, when asked for specifics.


by Jay Root
Bret Baier to Perry: "Where's your jobs plan?"
by Emily Ramshaw
Romney says in order to create jobs, "It helps to have had a job, and I have." It's a veiled jab at people like Perry, who he says are career politicians.
by Jay Root
Mitt Romney, worth $200 million or more, says: "I don't define who's rich and who's not rich."
by Becca Aaronson
In answering the question on job creation, Perry said tort reform encouraged more doctors to move to Texas, because they no longer had to fear frivolous lawsuits. But PolitiFact reported in August that Perry's claim that doctors moving to Texas because of tort reform is only partially true. "The wholesale transformation that Perry describes is not backed up by the numbers," according to their ruling.
by Jay Root
A debate slow moment observation: Rob Johnson, Eric Bearse and Robert Black all spotted in debate hall. Google giving out free smoothies, food, water, etc. Reporters are happy.
by Becca Aaronson
Cheers in the crowd for Ron Paul: "If we want government...it's proper to do it at the local level," said Paul. "There's no authority for them to control us as individuals and what we do with our personal lives."
by Jay Root
Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and a rare presence on national debate stage, says he would throw out entire tax system and replace with consumption tax.
by Emily Ramshaw
20 minutes in, I'd say this is the slowest debate yet. If they start talking who's rich, this could get fun.
by Jay Root
Perry attacks Romney over "Romney-care," argue over what Romney wrote in his book.
by Becca Aaronson
Perry blasts "Romneycare": "Your economic advisor talked about Romneycare and about how that was an absolute bust and was exactly what Obamacare was all about."
Romney attacks back: "I actually wrote my book."
by Emily Ramshaw
Rick Perry is asked about his proposal to potentially give control of social security back to the states. Perry said he never said that in detail: "It's not the first time Mitt has been wrong on some issues before."
"We never said we were going to move this back to the states," Perry said, just that it was an option.


by Emily Ramshaw
Romney says Perry's comments tonight are different than what Perry put in his book "Fed Up."
"There’s a Rick Perry out there" that's saying different things, Romney said. "You better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that."
by Jay Root
Perry says Romney distorting his views about Social Security, says allowing states to handle old-age pensions is simply "one of the options." Romney fires back that Perry said Social Security was a "failure" and should be replaced: "You better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that," Romney said. Debate getting a bit more lively now.
by Becca Aaronson
For the record, in the federalist vision of America in 2026 that Perry outlines in his book Fed Up!, Perry proposes creating a Social Security system that is "no longer set up like an illegal Ponzi scheme, but rather is set up to allow individuals to own and control their own retirement."
by Jay Root
Debate over Social Security remains a dominant feature of sniping between Perry and Romney. The campaigns swamp emails, with Romney saying Perry proposed in his book Fed Up to turn Social Security over to states. Team Perry attempts to re-frame issue by saying that many state employees already opt out of Social Security, says more than 95 percent of Massachusetts state employees do not participate in federal retirement program.
by Ryan Murphy
Working down the line on the question concerning improving public education, Paul says that if you care about your children, you would get the federal government out. He also supports the idea that if you do not like the public education system, parents and children should be able to opt out. Perry points out that there are a lot of good ideas up on the stage, and also throws support behind the idea of school choice, in particular the concept of vouchers for charter schools. Not to miss a chance at jabbing at Romney, Perry brings up Romney's support of Obama's Race to the Top.
by Becca Aaronson
Despite Romney's quip that Perry's attack was a "nice try," according to Politico, Romney did praise Obama's Race to the Top program - or at least his education secretary - at a town hall meeting in Miami yesterday. “I think Secretary Duncan has done some good things,” Romney said. “I hope that’s not heresy in this room.”
by Jay Root
Michele Bachmann, signaling differences with Perry, says she would build a border wall on "every mile, every yard every foot, every inch" of the border. Also says she would end giving any benefits to illegal immigrants or their children to "end the magnets for illegal immigrants"
by Jay Root
Perry now says he supported Arizona immigration law.
by Jay Root
Perry doubles down on giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, says people who oppose it have "no heart."
by Jay Root
Santorum piles on Perry on illegal immigration, says in-state tuition for illegal immigrants represents "preferential treatment." Says Perry is "very weak" on the issue.
by Jay Root
Perry says that if he's president he will beef up law enforcement on border and "we will stop illegal immigration. We will stop the drug cartels and we will make America secure."
by Jay Root
Immigration likely to be defining issue of this debate. Perry got big boos for his answers.
by Emily Ramshaw
This is interesting: Perry explained how tough he has been on immigration by saying he supported the state's amicus brief in the lawsuit to defend the Arizona-style immigration law. But he has consistently opposed Arizona-style laws in Texas, saying they are not appropriate for a state that is 38 percent Latino.
by Jay Root
Mitt Romney says the in-state tuition break for illegal immigrants adds up to a subsidy of about $100,000 for a degree from the University of Texas. He says it's an "extraordinary" benefit that draws people to cross the border. "That kind of magnet draws people into this country to ... get that $100,000 break."
by Jay Root
Direct quote from Perry on in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants who graduate in good standing from Texas high schools: "I still support it greatly."
by Becca Aaronson
Google's word cloud on searches for foreign policy shows "Israel" is the top hit.
by Jay Root
Perry said in debate tonight about Arizona law drafting local police into fight against illegal immigration: "I supported Arizona's immigration law by joining in that lawsuit to defend it." Perry said in April 2010: "I have concerns with portions of the law passed in Arizona and believe it would not be the right direction for Texas."
by Ryan Murphy
Perry responds to the question about Pakistan by stressing the need to build a relationship with countries in the Middle East, saying that the current administration has not done enough to secure allies in the region that could assist the United States in the event of a situation in Pakistan.
by Jay Root
Memorable Rick Perry line from his defense of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants: "If you say that we should not educate children who come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart. We need to be educating these children."
by Emily Ramshaw
Paul gets asked about a rape exception to abortion bans, and the morning after pill: "It is not a national issue, this is a state issue."
Paul says there's no way to police the morning after pill.
by Emily Ramshaw
Perry says he and George W. Bush have a great relationship, and that they talk on a "relatively regular basis."
What they don't have in common, he said, is probably as much in style as in substance. "I was very vocal in my disagreement with him on Medicaid Part D," Perry said. He also said they disagreed on No Child Left Behind. "The federal government has no business telling the states how to educate our children."
by Becca Aaronson
Perry says there's no bad blood between him and President George W. Bush. But as former Trib staffer Elise Hu reported, the Texas politicians' relationship is a bit more complicated: Explaining the Rick Perry-Bush Clan Divide
by Jay Root
Bachmann hits Perry in press release, says he "misrepresents" his position on Arizona law during debate.
by Ryan Murphy
Tonight, Perry also said he and Bush largely disagreed on No Child Left Behind. Though in his book he criticizes the act and suggests it is unconstitutional, Perry accepted financing for the education program as governor. This fiscal year, Texas received $2.03 billion in No Child Left Behind financing.
by Emily Ramshaw
Perry on HPV vaccine: "I don't know what part of opt-out most parents don't get."
by Emily Ramshaw
When hit on Texas' sky high rate of the uninsured, Perry seemed to stumble. He talked about the Medicaid waiver Texas asked the feds for under both Bush and Perry (it was never approved because its eligibility levels and enrollment levels were seen as too meager. Perry said federal flexibility is what states need. "This is how we go forward with our health care," he said. "Each state deciding how they're going to deliver that health care."
by Jay Root
HPV controversy is back. Bachmann says she never said vaccine was dangerous drug, only that she was relating story of a mother. Then she turned fire back on Perry: "Gov. Perry mandated a health care decision on all 12-year old girls" in Texas. She said Perry made the decision to issue his 2007 executive order to "benefit the big drug company," meaning Merck. Says Perry "got lobbied on this issue" by a woman dying of cervical cancer. Repeats line that he will "always err on the side of life."
by Becca Aaronson
When questioned about Perry's comments that his healthcare plan was "Obama-light," Romney says Massachusetts used a market-based private insurance plan. "It's different from Obamacare," he says, because it doesn't put government between the physician and the patient.

In the follow-up, Perry stumbled on his words against Romney: "Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of against the second amendment before he was against he second amendment? Was it before he was against the social programs...before he was against Roe vs. Wade, he was for Race for the Top. He's for Obamacare and now he's against it. We'll wait until tomorrow and see which Mitt Romney we're really talking to tonight."

Again, Romney tells Perry "nice try."
by Becca Aaronson
Ron Paul: "I've been warning for 20 years about bubbles, housing bubbles...you have to deal with the Federal Reserve, you have to deal with free markets, you have to deal with the regulatory market. Then you can get your jobs because the people will create the jobs, not the government."
by Jay Root
Gary Johnson says he would pick Ron Paul to be his running mate if he had to pick one. That would be an interesting ticket.
by Jay Root
Santorum says he would pick Newt Gingrich
by Jay Root
Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich won't play ball.
by Jay Root
Perry says he would like to have a running mate that merge Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich
by Emily Ramshaw
Romney: "Gov. Perry and I disagree on some issues. We all agree that President Obama needs to be former President Obama."
by Ryan Murphy
The candidates have to pick the competitor they would be willing to run with. Paul gets an early mention by fellow Libertarian Gary Johnson. Paul cites his consistant presence in the top three of the polls, and defers the question. Perry proposes a "mating" of Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.
by Becca Aaronson
Romney on Perry's answer: "There are a couple of images I'm going to have a hard time getting out of my mind."
by Jay Root
Herman Cain says he would pick Romney for a running mate but only if he adopted Cain's jobs plan, but otherwise would lean toward Newt Gingrich. Jon Huntsman joked that Romney and Perry might not be around because they were probably going to "bludgeon each other to death."

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