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The Brief: Oct. 13, 2011

The rise of Herman Cain may give Rick Perry an opening.

Gov. Rick Perry arrives at Dartmouth College's Spaulding Auditorium in New Hampshire for the Oct. 11, 2011, Republican presi…

The Big Conversation:

The rise of Herman Cain may give Rick Perry an opening.

The governor's subdued performance at Tuesday night's Republican debate in New Hampshire, at which he seemed to disappear at times, did little to rescue his wavering candidacy, whose troubles began with a series of shaky debate performances last month. Instead, the focus turned back to the race's two front-runners, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, who has surged to the top of several recent polls.

Indeed, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday showed Cain atop the standings with 27 percent of the Republican vote — a 22 percent bump since late August. Romney, who has held steady at 23 percent, now leads Perry, who dropped from 38 percent to 16 percent. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul sits in fourth place with 11 percent.

But as Nate Silver of The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog recently noted, while Perry has lost an average of about 15 points in recent polls, most of that support appears to have drifted toward Cain, not Romney. It stands to reason, then, that if Cain began to fade, his supporters could migrate back to Perry. And scrutiny of Cain and his so-called 9-9-9 economic plan, which dominated Tuesday's debate, has already intensified.

“There is still a long, long, long time to go,” Bill McInturff, one of the pollsters who conducted the NBC/Journal survey, said of the fluidity in the field, which has already seen several candidates surge and then recede.

The still-unsettled state of the race, and Cain's sudden rise (and possible impending fall), could give Perry time to lie low, coast through next week's debate in Las Vegas and, ultimately, mount a comeback. He already has plans to unveil an energy-based, "drill here, drill now" economic plan on Friday in Pittsburgh, Penn., The Dallas Morning News reports. And his campaign remains confident that dissatisfaction with Romney still runs deep.

“The Republican grassroots and activists are clearly uncomfortable and suspicious of Gov. Romney," Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan told the San Antonio Express-News. "So it quickly becomes Romney versus the conservative wing of the Republican Party, which is a pretty big wing."

The governor's $15 million in the bank won't hurt, either. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Perry campaign plans to wage an all-out assault against Romney over the airwaves, possibly hitting the former Massachusetts governor on issues like abortion and gay rights.

"Now that the field is full, the air war will start soon," Katon Dawson, the former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party and Perry's top adviser in the state, told the AP. "We seem to be inside a 100-day window. Governor Perry will be extremely competitive on the air."

Culled:

  • In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Rick Perry blamed the recent camp-name controversy on media outlets eager to portray southerners as racist. "I think a lot of people get offended when the media elites try to paint everyone from the South who has a twang to their voice as somehow being racist," Perry said. He also offered this when asked what Texas A&M-style chant he'd use for his campaign: "Rick Perry. Liberty. Rick Perry. Freedom. Freedom is working. Liberty is working. We’ve got to get America working again."
  • The El Paso Times reports that a lawyer representing the group El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values said on Wednesday that churches were used to circulate petitions against Mayor John Cook and two city representatives for their votes in favor of restoring health benefits to the gay and unmarried partners of city employees. Cook recently filed a lawsuit claiming that some of the group's recall efforts, including its use of churches, violated election code. The lawyer for the group denied that it had violated the law. As the Times notes, experts say the case could eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Opponents of a proposed state Confederate license plate on Wednesday delivered petitions containing thousands of signatures to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles' governing board, which could vote next month on whether to approve the plates, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Several leaders from both parties, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, have condemned the plates, which, if approved, could complicate Gov. Rick Perry's presidential run, which has recently been dogged by the race-related camp controversy.

"The other Republicans have sucked so bad we didn’t have any choice." — A top ally of President Obama's to Politico on the decision to start attacking Mitt Romney, whom the campaign reportedly believes will win the Republican nomination

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