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The Brief: Sept. 23, 2011

How much it'll hurt him is unclear, but one thing's for sure: The debate stage has been increasingly unkind to Rick Perry.

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The Big Conversation:

How much it'll hurt him is unclear, but one thing's for sure: The debate stage has been increasingly unkind to Rick Perry.

Coming off two relatively unsteady debate performances, Perry headed into Thursday night's Fox News/Google debate in Orlando, Fla., hoping to quell worries that he's not ready for the national stage.

Results were decidedly mixed.

As in the last two debates, Perry fared better during the first half of the night, keeping up with Mitt Romney, his chief rival, during a spat over passages in each other's books and briefly tripping him up during a tussle over federal education funding.

Perry also came armed with an impassioned defense of his support for a bill in Texas that offered in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants, accusing his opponents of "having no heart" for wanting to keep children who had ended up in Texas through no fault of their own away from a college education.

But Perry spent much of the night verbally stumbling through answers to a series of questions on topics ranging from Pakistan to Texas' uninsured rate. And in in his worst moment of the night, and perhaps one of his worst in any debate so far, Perry botched an apparently canned line attempting to paint Romney as a flip-flopper. "I think Americans just don’t know sometimes which Mitt Romney they’re dealing with," he said. "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 showed up with a retort to criticism about his 2007 HPV vaccine mandate, relaying a story about how he was "lobbied" to issue the executive order by a woman with advanced cervical cancer. But a fact-check reveals Perry didn't meet the woman until after he had issued the mandate.

Though Romney didn't fare perfectly either, dithering during a response to Perry's accusation that he supported President Obama's Race to the Top education program, the former Massachusetts governor was largely unflappable, winning top marks from the likes of Time and The Washington Post.

After the debate, the Romney campaign went after Perry's verbal slip-ups. "Some of his answers to questions were rambling and incoherent," said senior Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. "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."

Culled:

  • The Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced Thursday that it would end the long-standing tradition of allowing death row inmates to eat the final meal of their choice before they're executed. The department made the announcement hours after receiving a letter from state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, who wrote in response to an extravagant meal provided Wednesday night to one of the white supremacists responsible for killing James Byrd Jr. "Death row inmates before execution should be fed the same meal as any other inmate on the unit the day of the scheduled execution," Whitmire wrote.
  • State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday challenging the state's new Republican-drawn state Senate maps, which the Justice Department this week cleared of any minority voting-rights violations.
  • 2010 gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina went after Gov. Rick Perry at a Capitol press conference on Thursday attacking public policy "written to provide market advantages to political donors." Medina also specifically targeted Perry for his 2007 HPV vaccine mandate. “Michele Bachmann got it right," Medina said. "Gov. Perry’s executive order was driven on money, not driven on good policy."

"My next door neighbor's two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration." — Former New Mexico Gov. and long-shot presidential candidate Gary Johnson at Thursday's debate. The line, which Johnson has since admitted he borrowed, got the biggest applause of the night.

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