The Big Conversation:
Gov. Rick Perry, down but not out, faces a critical test this week.
Perry, still dogged by last week's camp-name controversy and his recent drop in polls, will have the opportunity to redeem himself at Tuesday night's Republican debate in New Hampshire — his first such event since a series of shaky performances last month.
“He needs an outstanding debate performance,” Republican consultant Rob Stutzman told The Washington Post. “He needs to demonstrate that he has it within him to be the best debater on the stage, and he’ll score major points if he can figure out how to do what no one has done yet — knock the unflappable Mitt off his game.”
The New York Times reports that aides have staged practice debates — featuring a stand-in Mitt Romney — for Perry and have urged the governor to get more sleep.
“We had a tired puppy,” an unnamed Republican friend of Perry's told The New York Times. “He had been pushed really hard.”
The Post notes that Perry faces a potentially daunting task: seeking redemption while Romney takes aim from the left and newly viable Herman Cain, who has taken off in polls since Perry's stumbles, swings at him from the right.
But for Perry, whose previous debate performances set off concerns among conservatives about his views on illegal immigration and readiness for the national stage, an impressive showing could give rise to a "comeback" storyline.
The governor showed signs of such life this weekend in a campaign swing through Iowa. As the Tribune's Emily Ramshaw reported, an energized Perry unveiled much-improved answers to questions on immigration and Social Security and announced that he'd release a detailed jobs plan this week.
"The pundits don’t choose the next president of the United States. Iowans do," Perry told a crowd in Spencer. "You measure a leader by how they walk, not how they talk."
- In Iowa, Rick Perry largely avoided the controversy sparked Friday at the conservative Christian-sponsored Values Voters Summit in Washington, where Robert Jeffress, the Dallas megachurch pastor who introduced Perry, called Mormonism a "cult" — a direct shot at Mitt Romney. As Politico notes, the pastor's comments have thrust Romney's faith — and stance on social issues — back into the center of the presidential campaign. (In other Values Voter Summit news, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, with the help of busloads of college students, won the conference's straw poll.)
- The Texas Senate appears set for a rare moment of heavy turnover next year, with four veterans moving on and a number of others likely to face tough re-election battles. The turnover, as the Austin American-Statesman notes, could shift an already conservative body further to the right at a time when the chamber may be called upon to select the state's next lieutenant governor and governor.
- DNA tests have exonerated 44 inmates in Texas since 1994, and Michael Morton, who spent 25 years in prison for murdering his wife, will likely be the 45th. But as the Trib's Brandi Grissom reports, experts say that under the state's antiquated evidence laws — which do not require prosecutors to automatically share with defense lawyers even basic information — such convictions could still happen today. “I think the Morton case is going to be a catalyst for moving some of those reforms forward,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.
“There’s no Christie, there’s no Palin, there’s no speculation. So everything starts over.” — Ryan Rhodes, head of the Iowa Tea Party, to The Washington Post on some Republicans' lingering dissatisfaction with Mitt Romney
- Behind the Rick Perry hunting camp story, The Washington Post
- For Perry, Texas Roots Include Racial Backdrop, The New York Times
- Where Rick Perry comes from: How the Texas Plains shaped a future presidential candidate, The Dallas Morning News
- Cartel connection reveals why La Familia targeted Austin, Austin American-Statesman
- Research Into Heat, Bleeding May Help Soldiers, Others, The Texas Tribune