Debate Day: Can Rick Perry Make The Pitch? (The Note)

LOS ANGELES — After a day of intense sniping, mostly conducted through campaign press releases, the 2012 Republican candidates will meet on a debate stage tonight and we’ll see whether they keep up their attacks once they’re face to face.

It will be Rick Perry’s first debate and the first debate for all of the candidates with Perry as the front-runner.

A new ABC News-Washington Post poll out today shows that among conservative Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, Perry leads 39 percent to 21 percent over Mitt Romney. But one bright spot for Romney: Among moderates, Romney leads Perry, 35 percent to 12 percent.

“There being more conservatives than moderates in the party, it’s advantage Perry,” notes ABC News pollster Gary Langer. “Yet, in a challenge to party cohesiveness, fewer than eight in 10 Romney supporters, 78 percent, say they’d support Perry in a general election race against Obama. More Perry supporters, 91 percent, say they’d back Romney were he the nominee.”

Tonight’s debate sponsored by NBC News and Politico takes place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. starting at 8 p.m. ET and will run until 9:45 p.m.

So far, Romney has taken some swipes at Perry, but it’s clear that Perry is punching harder. Unprovoked, a spokesman for the Texas governor took aim at the jobs speech Romney delivered in Las Vegas yesterday.

“As Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney failed to create a pro-jobs environment and failed to institute many of the reforms he now claims to support,” Perry’s national press secretary, Mark Miner, said in a statement.

Later in the day the Perry camp sent out another missive, this one highlighting Romney supporter and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman’s praise of Perry’s record in Texas. (It’s also clear that the Perry campaign’s opposition research department is in full swing.)

But the immediate push-back on Romney’s economic speech was telling: Perry’s going to be a front-runner with ferocity.

Perry, however, will face intense scrutiny tonight. He has never participated in a national debate of this kind and even avoided some debates during his 2010 gubernatorial re-election campaign in Texas. And, he’ll have plenty of fellow candidates gunning for him — not only Romney, but also Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann, who see him dipping into their conservative and Tea Party support.

Watch Jon Berman’s GMA report:

POLLING POINTS. From Gregory Holyk and Gary Langer: Thirty-seven percent of PERRY’s backers “strongly” support him; ROMNEY’s strong support is much lower, 15 percent, and down sharply, from 29 percent in July. And views of Perry as best able to defeat President Obama in November 2012 have grown among leaned Republicans from 6 percent in July to 30 percent now. Romney in the same time has lost 12 points on this score, and now trails Perry.

SARAH PALIN “faces continued deep challenges as a would-be candidate. Sixty-three percent of Americans see her as unqualified to serve as president, including 46 percent of leaned Republicans and 42 percent of supporters of the Tea Party movement. Those are large numbers to lose on the basic question of qualification for office.”


SANTORUM VS. PERRY.  Presidential candidate Rick Santorum is turning up the volume on his skepticism of Perry’s record as governor of Texas (he calls it a “mixed bag”) his conservative credentials (“I’m still waiting to hear,” Santorum said) and his past. When asked about Perry’s endorsement of Al Gore in the 1988 presidential race back when Perry was a Democrat, Santorum didn’t skip a beat. “I just don’t understand how someone can call themselves a Reagan conservative when he wasn’t for Reagan and he wasn’t for the conservative movement at the time Reagan was there,” he said. More of Santorum’s conversation with ABC News:

PAUL VS. PERRY. “Al Gore found a cheerleader in Texas called Rick Perry,” a new Ron Paul campaign ad says. “Rick Perry helped lead Al Gore’s campaign to undo the Reagan revolution. Fighting to help Al Gore get elected as president of the United States. Now America must decide whom to trust. Al Gore’s Texas cheerleader or the one who stood with Reagan.” ABC’s Jason Volack notes that Perry refutes that assertion; in fact, he endorsed Gore but never served as Texas chair of his campaign.

ROVE ON PERRY’S SOCIAL SECURITY STANCE: ‘TOXIC’. On “Good Morning America” this morning, Karl Rove noted that new GOP frontrunner has many strengths, but Rick Perry’s thoughts on Social Security are not among them. Perry’s campaign has not backed away from what Perry wrote in his book “Fed Up”  — that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme,” a “failure,” “something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now,” and one of many New Deal programs that have “never died, and like a bad disease, they have spread.”   But Rove pulled no punches today, calling that stance “inadequate.” ”They are going to have to find a way to deal with these things,” Rove said. “They’re toxic in a general election environment and they are also toxic in a Republican primary.  And if you say Social Security is a failure and ought to be replaced by a state level program, then people are going to say ‘What do you mean by that?’ and make a judgment based on your answer to it,” he said.

DEMS VS. PERRY. Democratic Super PAC American Bridge has released a new video hitting Rick Perry on his past statements about Social Security titled, “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.” WATCH:


THE NOTE’S QUOTES: “Unlike other candidates, he knows what it takes to create private-sector jobs, and that’s exactly what our country needs.” –Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman on Mitt Romney (from Romney’s 160-page jobs plan released yesterday)

“Texas has the most business friendly climate in the country. They have ombudsmen for every industry. Texas Governor Rick Perry says he comes on hunting trips to California. … And I said, ‘Really? What are you hunting out here?’ He said, ‘Companies. Because we can offer them virtually zero percent corporate income tax, we will get you through the permitting in lightning speed. We are open for business.’” –Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman on Rick Perry in 2010 (courtesy of a Perry press release)


ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE. ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter talk to Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who co-moderated a presidential forum in South Carolina on Labor Day. Also on the show, Craig Shirley, author of the book, “Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All.” Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.


WHITE HOUSE WATCH: While the Republican candidates seeking to replace him gather on a debate stage in California, President Obama will likely spend today fine-tuning his jobs proposal with just one day to go until his address before Congress, ABC’s Mary Bruce notes. On Tuesday, Republicans returning to Capitol Hill put forth areas of potential agreement and urged the president to find common ground ahead of his address. Democrats meanwhile outlined their expectations for the president, calling for him to “be bold” and “hit it out of the park” on Thursday.

OBAMA SPEECH PREVIEW. “In his speech Thursday, Obama’s prescriptions will be in the same mold as they were in 2008 — infrastructure spending; housing aid, including an expanded refinance program and new measures to assist the unemployed, administration officials say. They will also include tax cuts to give extra cash to workers and spur hiring, as well as aid for states and localities. The cost of the programs is likely to be at least $200 billion, and a reluctant Congress would have to approve many of the ideas,” writes the Washington Post’s Zach Goldfarb. “The clearest indication yet that the nation’s economic recovery has basically stalled came last week when the government reported that the economy added no jobs in August. And in an ominous sign for his political prospects, Obama’s economists also projected that the unemployment rate would remain around 9 percent through the end of 2012, far higher than they had said when he took office. In his defense, Obama’s advisers like to point out — as the White House did last week — that 2.4 million private sector jobs have been created in the past 18 months. But that ignores the portion of the economy where Obama has the most influence: government jobs, which have seen significant losses. When those are taken into account, the economy has added far fewer jobs — 1.7 million — over the past 18 months.”

RNC COUNTER-PROGRAMMING. “We’ve heard this all before,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement today. “For the past two and a half years, President Obama has repeatedly promised to focus on jobs, but, instead, he has prioritized taxing, spending and regulating. The problem is that job creation was never a priority for this president. He spent the summer filling his campaign coffers, going on taxpayer-funded bus tours, playing golf and jetting off to Martha’s Vineyard at a time when 14 million Americans are out of work.”



SUPERCOMMITTE CHAIRS HENSARLING AND MURRAY HAVE NEVER MET. EVER. “For Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the job of leading a congressional search for $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next three months is tough enough. But that task is further complicated by a little-known oddity: The two Capitol Hill veterans have never met each other,” The Hill’s Russell Berman notes. “Not in the month since they were tapped to lead the vaunted ‘supercommittee,’ nor in the preceding nine years that they jointly served in Congress, aides to both lawmakers say. When the supercommittee meets for the first time on Thursday, so, too, will Hensarling and Murray. The relationship they forge will be key to the panel’s chances for success. ‘It’s all in their hands, and it’s how they set the tone,’ said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). Isakson said it would be important for both Murray and Hensarling to set a tone for the committee of putting partisanship aside. ‘If either one or both don’t, it’s going to be very difficult for the committee,’ he said. A majority of the committee’s 12 members must support a final package, and while it is conceivable that neither the conservative Hensarling nor the liberal Murray will sign on to a deal, they are responsible for steering the panel toward agreement. … Aides say that while the co-chairmen have not met in person, they have spoken by phone frequently over the last month, working together to hire senior staff and schedule the panel’s initial meetings.”

TIM PAWLENTY LAUGHS IT OFF. “After making a hasty exit from the presidential race last month, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty resurfaced Tuesday — on a comedy show,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Jeremy Herb reports.”Pawlenty gave his first interview since dropping his White House bid to comedian Stephen Colbert, who made Pawlenty a frequent butt of jokes during the campaign. The Minnesota Republican appeared to be in good spirits for the interview on Comedy Central’s ‘The Colbert Report,’ taking jokes about his campaign’s demise in stride and making a few of his own. ‘It’s taking on more and more of a reality TV component,’ Pawlenty said of the race. ‘Did you think you should learn to juggle?’ Colbert asked. ‘I thought about shooting sparks out of my butt,’ Pawlenty responded. The former governor faces an uncertain future in politics. He’s been preparing for a presidential run since 2008, when he was nearly chosen as U.S. Sen. John McCain’s running mate, and campaigned full time once his second term as governor ended in 2010. Pawlenty told the Star Tribune after the show Tuesday that he remains undecided about his future, whether he winds up in the private sector or public sector. ‘I genuinely don’t know what I’m going to do,’ Pawlenty said.”

OBAMA’S BIG-MONEY DONORS TO MEET. “President Obama’s elite corps of fund-raisers meet in Chicago this week, scratching a Thursday evening cruise so they can watch Obama’s jobs address to Congress at his Prudential Building campaign headquarters,” the Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet reports. “Two top Obama White House officials–Peter Rouse and Stephanie Cutter–and Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl.)– will fly to Chicago to brief the mega fund-raisers, known as ‘bundlers.’ The cruise, planned to kick off the two-day meeting, was cancelled once Obama’s jobs speech was scheduled for Thursday before a joint session of Congress. On Friday, there will be break out sessions at the Palmer House with top Obama campaign officials. One session will feature Ira Forman, the former chief of the National Jewish Democratic Council, hired last month to direct Obama’s outreach to Jewish voters. Jewish donors have been major big money Obama backers and the campaign fund-raising department has staffers devoted to working with Jewish contributors–as well as other constituent groups. Within the Democratic Jewish community, some are upset with Obama’s handling of Mideast issues, others are concerned about his administrations’ domestic agenda.”

WHAT WILL WARREN DO? It could be the race of the liberal firebrand against the Republican savior:  Elizabeth Warren, who angered both Republicans and Democrats as a consumer advocate, is inching toward a run for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, where she’d face off against Sen. Scott Brown, the Republican who shocked the political establishment by winning the seat Democrat Ted Kennedy held for more than four decades,” ABC News’ Shushannah Walshe writes. “Warren headlined a packed labor event in Boston Monday, and has been raising campaign money and assembling volunteers to work for her should she declare her candidacy. The Harvard Law professor, who made a national name for herself as a government watchdog and consumer advocate, stayed coy about whether she would enter the Democratic primary when she addressed the Greater Boston Labor Council at its annual Labor Day breakfast. But as soon as she mentioned a potential run, she was interrupted by thunderous applause. ‘I’m not giving up without a fight. I’m going to keep fighting for middle-class families, for working people, whether I fight as an outsider or I fight from the floor of the Senate,’ Warren told those assembled. … Warren helped create the Consumer Financial Bureau but was passed over to lead it mostly because of Republican opposition. This summer she has been on a listening tour of Massachusetts, meeting with supporters.  On Monday she previewed the themes a Warren campaign.  She talked about her childhood lived on the ‘ragged edge of the middle class,’ and said she knew the ‘anxiety that comes with living one pink slip or one serious medical problem away from financial collapse.’”



@ AlexConant : Why is WH leaking details of new stimulus plan ahead of tonight’s debate? Doesn’t that let GOP define/brand it first?

@ daveweigel : Last NH dispatch for now: Huntsman tries to charm every moderate in the state

@ HotlineJosh : My latest column: Why Perry would be a more formidable nominee than Dems realize and Republicans acknowledge

@ jeffzeleny : The battle to define Obama: By GOP candidates — and by the White House. Will they run against Version 2010 or 2012?

@ politicoalex : It’s all the rage: candidates running for seats that don’t exist. Call it the ghost district phenomenon. My story:

@ ralphreed : WH: You’ll have to distance O from Hoffa’s words eventually, do it now.



(all times local)

* NBC, Politico and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library hold a Republican presidential primary debate in Simi Valley, Calif. Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will participate.

* Rick Perry holds post-debate rallies in Camarillo, Calif. and San Diego.


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