The Big Conversation:
Gov. Rick Perry, the Republican presidential front-runner just a few weeks ago, virtually disappeared at Tuesday night's debate.
The Bloomberg/Washington Post debate, at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, centered on the economy, allowing Perry to sidestep issues like immigration and his 2007 HPV vaccine mandate, which have tripped him up in recent debates.
But the topic, while seemingly tailored to Perry's perceived strengths, instead benefited an increasingly commanding Mitt Romney, buoyant after receiving the endorsement of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earlier in the day, and a newly viable Herman Cain, whose so-called 9-9-9 economic plan dominated multiple exchanges throughout the night.
Meanwhile, Perry, looking to turn a corner after a series of shaky debate performances and a sharp drop in polls, returned repeatedly to the topic of energy independence, previewing the jobs plan he's expected to unveil Friday in Pittsburgh. But he failed to land any punches and appeared thrown off by a couple of questions, including one on Texas' Emerging Technology Fund. At one point, the governor also went for nearly half an hour without receiving a question from the moderators or jumping in to answer another.
Perry "seemed remarkably passive, just a real non-presence,” Jim Henson of the University of Texas told the Tribune. “He certainly didn’t do anything to reassert himself into the top tier.”
Though calmer and less meandering than in past debates, Perry, in failing to break through last night, may have reinforced concerns among Republicans about his readiness for the national stage.
Mark Halperin of Time gave Perry's performance a C, writing that "he had something to prove and he failed." (Romney received an A and Cain an A-.)
After the debate, Perry attempted to downplay the stakes, suggesting that he didn't expect to win the night anyway. “I just try to get up every day and do my job, and debates are not my strong suit,” he told reporters after a post-debate party at a Dartmouth fraternity house.
- In a brief but tense spat that preceded Tuesday's debate, Mitt Romney called on Rick Perry to repudiate Robert Jeffress, the Perry-backing Dallas megachurch pastor who recently called Mormonism a cult. Mark Miner, a spokesman for Perry, shot back: “The governor does not agree with every single issue of people that endorsed him or people that he meets. This political rhetoric from Gov. Romney isn’t going to create one new job or help the economy. He’s playing a game of deflection and the people of this country know this.”
- More than 150 Texas school districts have filed suit against the state over its school finance system, which has been called unfair to the state's schoolchildren and taxpayers. The lawsuit is the latest in a long string of court cases that have challenged the finance system, which the Tribune's Morgan Smith reported on last week.
- Officials have linked Manssor Arbabsiar, a Central Texas resident, to the foiled Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S., which the federal government announced Tuesday.
"The reason that we fought the Revolution in the 16th century was to get away from that kind of onerous crown, if you will." — Rick Perry, after Tuesday night's debate
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