The Big Conversation:
Tuesday night’s Republican debate became a tempest in a Tea Party as tempers flared and jabs got personal, especially between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.
The highlight: a tense exchange that began with Perry pivoting on a question about the high numbers of uninsured Texans to accuse Romney of hiring “illegals” at his home. Romney denied the allegation and turned the immigration question back on Perry, who he said has allowed large numbers of illegal immigrants to cross the southern border. The tussle quickly devolved into television-friendly shouting match over whose turn it was to speak.
"This has been a rough couple of debates for Rick," said Romney, getting an approving “ooooh” out of the very pro-Romney crowd in Vegas. (Many of Perry’s attacks on Romney elicited audible boos.)
But Perry’s showing last night was certainly an improvement upon his first four debate performances, which were derided as alternatively incoherent and passive. The governor sustained energy throughout the night and did not hesitate to go after the other candidates. He even got testy with moderator Anderson Cooper when Cooper tried to get him to stay on topic.
“You get to ask the questions. I get to answer like I want to,” Perry shot back.
Instead it was Herman Cain, who has been enjoying his own Perry-esque rise to top-dog status, who suddenly found himself sidelined. The candidates began the night by piling on Cain’s so-called 9-9-9 tax plan — Ron Paul repeated his belief that it’s “dangerous” — and Cain, after defending the proposal, didn’t leave much of an impression.
So, in light of Cain’s more subdued performance, did Perry’s feistier tone seal him a victory? Not so fast.
As Emily Ramshaw and Jay Root note in their write-up of the big to-do, “whether he was effective — or likeable — is, well, debatable."
After the debate, Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said, "I think Rick Perry had a strategy coming into this debate to kill Mitt, and he ended up killing himself."
Not surprisingly, the Perry camp had a different take. "This was a very good night for the governor, talking about jobs, defending his records, drawing contrasts where appropriate and where available," Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said afterward. "This is a campaign that's in it for the long haul."
Get used to this sort of back-and-forth. Based on their funding advantages as much as last night’s performance, this debate may be remembered as the beginning of what many have long anticipated would be a two-man race between the two governors.
- A new NBC/Marist poll out today shows Rick Perry in third place in two key primary states. In South Carolina, he's at 9 percent, behind Herman Cain at 30 percent and Mitt Romney at 26 percent. The standings are similar in Florida, where Perry has 8 percent, Cain has 32 percent and Romney has 31 percent.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Tuesday that it deported more immigrants — about 397,000 — during the last fiscal year than it has in any year in the agency's history. The numbers jibe with the Obama administration's amped-up enforcement, which has led to more deportations and prosecutions in three years than in President George W. Bush's two terms in office.
- El Paso Mayor John Cook is scheduled to visit Phoenix for a meeting next month despite a policy adopted by the City Council last year against spending tax dollars in Arizona because of Senate Bill 1070, the state's infamous immigration law, the El Paso Times reports. City Rep. Eddie Holguin pushed Cook to cancel his plans, but the mayor said the organization behind the meeting booked the location in Arizona before the law had passed.
“An authentic conservative, not a conservative of convenience.” — Rick Perry, describing himself, in a swipe at Mitt Romney
- Vegas Debate: A Game of Seven-Candidate Draw?, FiveThirtyEight
- Grading the Desert Dust-Up, Time
- Rick Perry revives by rattling Mitt Romney in Las Vegas debate, Politico
- The CNN Debate: Where Has This Perry Been?, RedState
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