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The Brief: Sept. 26, 2011

Rick Perry's roughest week yet has put his front-runner status in serious jeopardy.

Gov. Rick Perry in an interview with Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith

The Big Conversation:

Rick Perry's roughest week yet has put his front-runner status in serious jeopardy.

On Friday, the scathing reviews kept pouring in for Perry's showing at the Republican debate on Thursday night. Influential blogger Erick Erickson of RedState called Perry's performance a “train wreck." Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, wrote: "No front-runner in a presidential field has ever, we imagine, had as weak a showing as Rick Perry. It was close to a disqualifying two hours for him."

Perry's losses mounted Saturday at the Florida Straw Poll, in which Perry, unlike his top rivals, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, had invested time and money. “Here we are 11 years later, and I’ve got all my hopes on Florida again,” Perry, referring to the 2000 presidential election, said before the poll.

But businessman Herman Cain, still a long-shot candidate, came out on top, handily, taking 37 percent of the vote to Perry's 15 percent. The results, along with the debate and renewed scrutiny of Perry's views on illegal immigration, have quickly prompted a wholesale re-examination of the candidate who has spent weeks at the top of virtually every Republican poll, sometimes well ahead of Romney.

“Perry’s showing in the straw poll was disastrous. He was here, he worked the crowd, and it just proves that the debate performance really undermined his support,” Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, who attended the straw poll, told Politico. “Perry’s gotta retool, reorganize and retrench very quickly.”

But to what extent can a debate viewed by only a fraction of voters and a barely contested, nonbinding straw poll damage a candidacy? Nate Silver, data guru at The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog, says it's too soon to write the governor off: "Given the lack of appreciable momentum for any of the other candidates — and that all of them had been polling in the single digits — Mr. Perry will probably get a second and perhaps even a third look before one of them has the chance to emerge as the consensus alternative to Mr. Romney."

A lasting effect, however, may be seen among GOP donors and elites, some of whom have reportedly responded to Perry's stumbles by again pleading for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to enter the race.

Culled:

  • President Barack Obama on Sunday took his most direct shot yet at Rick Perry, calling him "a governor whose state is on fire, denying climate change.” Obama, at a fundraiser in Silicon Valley, also criticized audience reaction at recent Republican debates. “That’s not reflective of who we are," he said. Perry's campaign this morning fired back: "It's outrageous President Obama would use the burning of 1,500 homes, the worst fires in state history, as a political attack. This from a president whose nation is financially suffering and his solution is taking more money away from families by raising taxes on families and small businesses."
  • The Southeastern Conference on Sunday officially accepted Texas A&M as its 13th member, concluding a protracted battle that pitted A&M against the University of Texas largely for its Longhorn Network deal with ESPN and provoked potential lawsuits from Big 12 schools like Baylor (whose president, Kenneth Starr, the Trib's Reeve Hamilton just profiled). A&M will officially move on July 1, 2012.

"These are very weak front-runners." — Conservative political writer Bill Kristol on Perry and Romney

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