Tonight will be Rick Perry’s debut at a GOP presidential debate. As we have seen in this cycle, prescription a good debate performance can provide a real boost to candidates and change the dynamics of the race. Michele Bachmann’s strong performance at a GOP debate in June was followed by an improvement in her numbers in several polls and eventually a win in the (unscientific) Ames Straw Poll.
Here is what to look out for in tonight’s debate:
How will Perry do?
Confident and folksy, Perry has a talent for coming across as sincere, staying focused on his key themes and answering the questions he wants to answer rather than the ones he’s been asked. He never, ever backs down: In four hours of debates spanning three campaigns, all of which focused on knocking the incumbent — Perry — off balance, not once did he admit error, express regret or acknowledge the merits of criticism.
But Perry’s greatest strength, his poised self-assurance, can also be his weakness. When he goes astray, it is by hamming it up, overdoing the cowboy act at the expense of specifics and appearing arrogant and glib.
Notably, Politico reminds us that Perry did not debate his Democratic opponent in the 2010 gubernatorial election. No one is claiming that Perry will be a stronger debater, but a weak performance by Perry may reduce his lead in the polls.
Will Romney Attack?
After Perry, the candidate of most interest is Mitt Romney. His campaign strategy remains one of stubbornly refusing to be combative against his GOP opponents. He seems to be running a general election campaign in the primary season.
He will likely tout his new 59 point jobs plan, and make a few awkward jokes about how Obama is “A payphone President in a smartphone age”, but how he will deal with Perry is a big unknown.
Will Perry Get Attacked by Everyone Else?
If Romney doesn’t want to attack Rick Perry, then there are more than enough other candidates who are willing to try. Ron Paul has been very aggressive, releasing a web video which argued that Perry was not the true heir to Ronald Reagan, unlike (the video argues) Ron Paul. A pro-Michele Bachmann Super-PAC has also released a video attacking Perry’s lead.