Mitt Romney Goes To The Head Of The (Debate) Class (The Note)

Sep 23, 2011 8:47am

By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone) and AMY WALTER (@amyewalter)

He may no longer be ahead in many national polls, but as a presidential debater, last night’s performance by Mitt Romney in Orlando proved he’s at the head of the class.

The former Massachusetts governor is the 2012 Republican primary’s star student and debates are his best subject. That showed on stage as he landed a number of clean hits on Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose responses to some questions were more uneven, and, at times, rambling.

As one smart Republican strategist told The Note after the debate, “The only thing more crisp than Mitt Romney’s answers was the white shirt he gave them in. He will regret the, ‘there’s a lot of reasons not to elect me’ quip, but otherwise he looked as good as he ever has.”

That’s not to say that Perry didn’t find his voice at times during the two-hour contest sponsored by Fox News and Google and held in Florida — an important primary state. He successfully called Romney out for changing his tune between printings of his book, “No Apologies,” on whether the health care plan he signed into law in Massachusetts should be a model for the rest of the country. http://abcn.ws/qSPgHq

And he has opened up a fresh line of attack on his rival by bringing up Romney’s stance on the Obama administration education initiative, Race to the Top.

“Being in favor of the Obama ‘Race to the Top,’” Perry said. “That is not conservative.”

“Nice try,” Romney snapped. “I don’t support any particular program that he’s described.”  (But a town hall meeting in Miami earlier this week, Romney said elements of Race to the Top “make sense,” and should be carried out on the state level.)

Still, Perry  offered a head-scratcher of an answer to a question about what he would do if, as president, he received a 3 a.m. phone call informing him that a Pakistani nuclear weapon had fallen into terrorist hands.

His started his answer by saying: “Obviously before you ever get to that point you have to build a relationship in that region and that’s one of the things this administration has not done.” He went on to talk about selling F-16s to India and somehow fit in a reference to Taiwan.

In the spin room after the debate, one of Romney’s chief strategists, Eric Fehrnstrom, delighted in calling Perry’s response to the foreign policy question “completely unintelligible.”

Perry even whiffed on what should have been a home run — calling out Romney as a flip-flopper. He rambled and stumbled and ultimately lost any chance he had to get in a clean kill.

The night was not a slam-dunk for Romney. And the Perry team can console themselves with this: there’s no direct correlation between being a strong debater and winning the nomination. That and the fact that very few voters are actually tuning into these early back and forth between these candidates.

However, Perry does have to worry that as a relatively unknown candidate these debates are going to start to define him in the exact opposite way than he is trying to portray himself. In real life, Perry projects a swagger and a confidence. On stage, he looks unsure and small.

More from ABC Political Director Amy Walter’s analysis of last night’s debate: http://abcn.ws/qgNaKF

 

ABC FACT CHECKS:

Perry Misstated Relationship With Dying Woman: ABC’s Arlette Saenz reports: Although Rick Perry said at a debate on Thursday that he was “lobbied” by a 31-year-old woman suffering from cervical cancer to require young girls to receive the HPV vaccine, he did not meet the cancer patient until after he had already issued his executive order mandating the vaccine. It was a rhetorical high point for Perry at the debate in Florida, when he put a personal face on the story and pointed to his friendship with a woman who later died of cervical cancer. “I got lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31 year old young lady who had stage 4 cervical cancer,” said Perry. “I spent a lot of time with her.  She came by my office  She talked to me about this program.   I readily admitted we should have had an opt-in but I don’t know what part of opt out most parents don’t get and the fact is I erred on the side of life and I will always err on the side of life as a governor as a president of the United States.” The woman Rick Perry mentioned in the Republican debate Thursday was Heather Burcham, a thirty one year old woman dying from cervical cancer. But what Perry left out in his answer was that he met her after he issued his executive order. http://abcn.ws/oELbrJ

Romney Book Changed to Remove Line About National Health Reform: ABC’s Emily Friedman reports: After the Republican presidential debate Thursday night, a senior advisor to Mitt Romney acknowledged that a line about spreading health care reform throughout the country was changed in the paperback version of Romney’s book “No Apology.” During the debate Romney denied that his book had been changed. “I actually — I actually wrote my book, and in my book I said no such thing. What I said — actually, when I put my health care plan together — and I met with Dan Balz, for instance, of The Washington Post. He said, is this a plan that if you were president you would put on the nation, have the whole nation adopt it? I said, absolutely not. I said, this is a state plan for a state, it is not a national plan. But after the debate Romney’s staffer [Eric] Fehrnstrom said that line was indeed removed because there was more information. “Every time a book goes from hardcover to paperback there are updates that are made,” Fehrnstrom said. “When Mitt Romney wrote his book “No Apology” it came out before the health reform law passed and the stimulus bill passed came so of course there were updates a year later when the paperback edition came out. That’s not unusual in the publishing industry.” http://abcn.ws/qM4PE6

 

IN THE NOTE’S INBOX:

Santorum Emerges and Proves He Can Answer the “3 AM Phone Call”

– GARY JOHNSON SETS HIMSELF APART IN THE PRESIDENTIAL FIELD

Cain Wins FOX News/ Google Debate

Bachmann Brings Voice of American Voters to GOP Debate

Huntsman Continues To Build Momentum in GOP Debate

 

JUST LIKE COLLEGE, Walter Shapiro extends the classroom metaphor in his debate analysis for The New Republic: “Romney, the ultimate wind-up candidate, had no problem acing his rehearsals, rarely faltering in delivering his well-practiced putdowns.  … Sometimes, though, Romney’s over-preparation was so thorough that it deprived him of even a glimmer of spontaneity. … Perry’s problem on a debate stage appears to be the same one that bedeviled him as a student at Texas A & M–not always doing his coursework. Repeatedly, Perry’s on-message responses started strong and then petered out as if the candidate was desperately trying to remember those parts of the briefing book he merely skimmed.” http://bit.ly/o3x9yF

 

ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl talk to Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. Also on the program, a clip of Karl’s “Subway Series” interview with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. (preview below). Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://abcn.ws/toplineliveabc

“SUBWAY SERIES” PREVIEW: Lamar Alexander Tells Mitt Romney To ‘Stick to Your Guns’ On Massachusetts Health Care Law: Although Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has been criticized by fellow republicans for the controversial health care law he enacted as Governor of Massachusetts, one senior U.S. Senator has some unorthodox advice for him: “stick to your guns.” Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., tells ABC News he thinks Romney should not only vigorously defend the health care law he signed as governor, but also resist the recommendations from fellow republican heavy hitters like Tea Party kingmaker Senator Jim DeMint, R-SC, to admit he made a mistake. “I wouldn’t do it,” Alexander said during an interview on ABC News’ Subway Series with Jonathan Karl. ”I would think less of him if he did that.” (h/t ABC’s Gregory C. Simmons) http://abcn.ws/oJoSkS

 

THIS WEEK ON “THIS WEEK.” As President Obama tries to make the case for his jobs plan, is there any way he can bridge the gap with Republicans on his calls for new infrastructure spending and taxing the rich? ABC’s Christiane Amanpour talks with Senior White House Advisor David Plouffe about the battle to sell the president’s economic plans. http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/

 

WHITE HOUSE WATCH: ABC’s Mary Bruce previews President Obama’s day: The president will turn his focus today to education, offering a waiver from the central requirements of “No Child Left Behind” to states that adopt his education agenda. “To help states, districts and schools that are ready to move forward with education reform, our administration will provide flexibility from the law in exchange for a real commitment to undertake change,” Obama said in a statement Thursday. The president will effectively end the accountability measures in the Bush-era education law and allow states to opt out of its 2014 deadline to prove students are proficient in math and reading. In exchange, states must prove they have adopted certain reforms that the White House deems necessary, including adopting “college and career-ready” academic standards and linking teacher evaluations to student performance.

 

THE BUZZ

MATTHEW DOWD’S BIG PREDICTION. “On Thursday, the world’s dominant search engine, Google, co-sponsored a debate for: a party in search of a leader to take on currently very vulnerable incumbent president; nine candidates in search of a message that will resonate with potential Republican voters and carry them to victory, and, last but not least, Americans  in search of a leader who can give us a vision of hope and confidence and optimism to succeed in this 21st century. … I have this gut feeling that we aren’t looking right now at who will be inaugurated president in January 2013. I don’t know if another Democrat gets in to challenge President Obama, another Republican, or an Independent candidate surfaces, but it seems to be we aren’t looking at our next president yet.  Just a thought and suspicion in this time of great change and tremendous need for a different kind of leader.” More of Dowd’s key takeaways from last night’s debate: http://abcn.ws/r7VPnm

REPUBLICAN REDO: HOUSE PASSES TEMPORARY SPENDING BILL. “On the second attempt in two days (and part an early morning), the House of Representatives narrowly passed the GOP’s continuing resolution just before 1:00 a.m. Friday morning after the Republican leadership was able to swing half of the Republican ‘nay’ votes to their favor by adding an amendment to strip $100 million from a federal loan program that funded the bankrupt Solyndra,” ABC’s Kevin Dolak reports. “The razor thin vote was called by Rep. Charlie Bass at 12:49 a.m., passing 219-203, with 12 members not voting. Six Democrats joined 213 Republicans in supporting the measure. On Wednesday evening, 48 Republicans, including 20 freshmen, voted with Democrats to bring down the vote on its first attempt. But this time, about half of those Republicans voted back with the bulk of their party in favor of the bill. The new offset would cut the remaining funds from the same government loan program that granted a $535 million loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt Solyndra solar company. The bill now heads across the Capitol to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid says the bill will die a quick death Friday.” http://abcn.ws/rat0XT

U.S. GOVERNMENT: PAYING THE DEAD. “The federal government pays out millions of dollars to dead people each year — including deceased retired federal workers, according to a new report,” the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe reports. “In the past five years, the Office of Personnel Management has made more than $601 million in benefits payments to deceased federal annuitants, according to the agency’s inspector general. Total annual payouts range between $100 million and $150 million. Inspector General Patrick E. McFarland, who previously reported on the improper payments in 2005 and 2008, urged OPM to more closely track such mistakes. ‘It is time to stop, once and for all, this waste of taxpayer money,’ he wrote in the report. Improper payments to dead retirees increased 70 percent in the past five years, far higher than the 19 percent climb in overall annuity payments, the report said. The payments are on the rise because OPM is doing a poor job of tracking potential cheats, McFarland said. In one case, a deceased annuitant’s son continued receiving federal benefits until 2008 — 37 years after his father’s death. OPM learned about the improper payments — which exceeded $515,000 — only after the son died. The agency never recovered the money.” http://wapo.st/pekApM

WHO’S WINNING THE JEWISH VOTE? “American Jews have long proved a solid voting bloc for the Democratic Party, with about four out of five voting for President Obama in 2008, according to exit polls. Jewish voters are driven by a broad range of concerns, but for some the security of Israel is dominant. Now, with the peace process in the Middle East at a stalemate and Palestinians taking their case for statehood directly to the United Nations, Republicans are stepping up their efforts to peel off Jewish voters,” The New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein notes. “While this constituency is clearly in play, a new Gallup poll shows that Jews are no more disillusioned than other Americans are with Mr. Obama. According to the poll, his Jewish support has declined since the election in 2008 — but at a rate no different from that of Americans as a whole. Even with that drop-off, 54 percent of Jewish voters told Gallup in August and September that they approved of the job the president was doing (compared with 41 percent of American voters over all). In fact, Jews continue to be far more enthusiastic about Mr. Obama than other Americans — a 13-point difference that has remained sizable throughout the president’s term.” http://nyti.ms/pzOnTd

 

WHO’S TWEETING?

@pfeiffer44: Jacob Weisberg of Slate tells the world all they need to know about Ron Suskind and his new book slate.com/id/2304228/

@dickstevenson: “There are a lot of reasons not to elect me.” That line is guaranteed to be in an anti-Romney ad very, very soon. #gopdebate

@mkhammer: Wanted to say also, I think @TheHermanCain and Santorum gained some donors tonight.

@RealClearScott: Palin camp thinks they can put together operation in a couple weeks. Has the ship already sailed? bit.ly/nclgAa

@timkmak: Two days after repeal of DADT, Obama admin opposes giving full severance to service members dismissed on the rulepoliti.co/n2gmav

 

POLITICAL RADAR: 

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* All of the major Republican presidential candidates speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida throughout the day.

The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV

 

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* For breaking political news and analysis check out The Note blog: http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/and ABCNews.com/Politics: http://abcnews.com/politics

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