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The Brief: Oct. 11, 2011

Do debates matter? Just ask Rick Perry, whose wavering candidacy, by many accounts, may ride on his performance tonight.

The set at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. on Oct. 10, 2011, the night before Rick Perry's fourth Republican presidential…

The Big Conversation:

Do debates matter? Just ask Rick Perry, whose wavering candidacy, by many accounts, may ride on his performance tonight.

Observers have called tonight's Bloomberg/Washington Post Republican debate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire Perry's now-or-never, do-or-die moment.

That might be overstating the stakes, but only slightly.

Looking for a reboot after three shaky debate performances, a flurry of controversy over his stance on Social Security and granting in-state tuition to some illegal immigrants, and a subsequent drop in polls, Perry now must dispel perceptions — held even among many Republicans — that he isn't ready for the national stage.

“The fact that the Perry campaign narrative has become all about the debates and is now trailing him on campaign trail means he has to knock it out,” longtime Republican strategist Scott Reed told Politico.

The forum will center on the economy, which may allow Perry to keep the conversation focused on job creation, one of his perceived strengths. Though Social Security and illegal immigration, issues adjacent to the economy, could come up, Perry may get to sidestep questions about his 2007 HPV vaccine mandate, which has also dogged his campaign. (Given the unpredictability of debates, though, don't count out questions about Perry's recent camp-name controversy.)

Perry, at the urging of his aides, has reportedly rested up for tonight's debate. The campaign has also staged debate practices for Perry featuring a stand-in Mitt Romney.

The intense pressure on Perry comes as a series of polls have shown him dropping precipitously since he took the lead from Romney in August. Two national polls released Monday, one from the Post and Bloomberg and the other from Gallup, aligned with recent surveys showing Perry having dropped to third place, in the low teens, behind front-runner Romney and a surging Herman Cain. Two new NBC News-Marist polls out this morning show Perry at 10 percent in Iowa, tied for fourth place with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

The sudden rise of Cain, the current beneficiary of much anti-Romney sentiment, could complicate Perry's plans. Romney, hitting him from the left, and Cain, swinging from the right, could marginalize Perry — or at least rough him up a bit.

That said, Perry's not the only candidate under pressure. Romney, whom polls have shown trouncing the rest of the field in New Hampshire, must also contend with the possibility that a better-than-expected showing for Perry could put the Texas governor back in contention.

As Jim Henson of the University of Texas tells the Tribune's Morgan Smith, "Anything less than terrible there for [Perry] becomes some kind of victory."

The two-hour debate, moderated by Charlie Rose, airs at 7 p.m. Central on Bloomberg TV. Watch online at bloomberg.com and washingtonpost.com/debate.

Culled:

  • Politico reports this morning that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, running for U.S. Senate, raised $2.64 million in the third quarter, breaking the single-quarter record for a Senate candidate in Texas. Dewhurst, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, also made a $2 million personal contribution, giving him more than $4 million cash on hand.
  • The race for the Democratic nomination in the much-hyped Central Texas congressional race between U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and state Rep. Joaquin Castro has put the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in a tough spot, forcing the group's members and other Democrats to choose between a longtime congressman with strong ties to the Hispanic community and a rising Hispanic star whom the caucus could add to its ranks. “There’s no doubt about it, it’s not a comfortable situation,” U.S. Rep. Charles Gonzalez, chairman of the caucus, told Politico. “Does it pose a dilemma? Of course it does.” Meanwhile, the Austin American-Statesman reports that while Doggett's campaign war chest totals more than $3 million, his most recent fundraising has fallen behind Castro's.
  • The Houston Chronicle reported Monday that a Rice University professor has accused the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state's environmental agency, of deleting references to climate change from an article he wrote about Galveston Bay for a TCEQ report. "I don't think there is any question but that their motive is to tone this thing down as it relates to global change," John Anderson, the professor, told the Chronicle.

"There are people out there who want to try to paint me as the Jeremiah Wright of the right. My comments are not fanatical. It’s just true that Mormonism is not a part of historical Christianity." — The Rev. Robert Jeffress in an appearance on MSNBC. On Friday, Jeffress, a Rick Perry-backing Texas megachurch pastor, called Mormonism a "cult."

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