GOP Fight Night

Will Rick Perry take home the championship belt at the presidential debate?

Posted: 09/07/2011 04:31 PM EDT
Rick Perry

Almost a month has passed since Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the Republican presidential nominating race, going from zero to the top of the pack with amazing speed. All eyes will be on him Wednesday night as he takes the stage with seven other Republican presidential hopefuls for the first in a series of debates to take place this month.

 

“This is Rick Perry’s coming out party,” says Brian Darling, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “It will be fascinating to watch how he deals with the other candidates who will probably be sniping at him because they see him as the emerging frontrunner.”

 

It’s a title once held by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and pundits’ ears will be perked to hear whether Romney continues to act like the frontrunner by sticking with his disciplined attack on President Obama, while the others sling mud at Perry. Earlier this week he rolled out an extensively detailed economic plan that will be a centerpiece of the message he wants to get out, Darling said.

 

He also predicts that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has fallen from second to third place, thanks to Perry, will perform well. But other political observers think she has her work cut out for her and that she hasn’t taken advantage of her Ames straw poll win to build up the momentum needed to keep Perry at bay.

 

Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich will have to work harder to steer attention from the top three candidates.

 

Huntsman, for example, has tried to be the John McCain of the cycle, says Darling, focusing on moderate-to-liberal Republicans. The problem is that his rivals will be wooing the Tea Party movement Wednesday night, “because that’s where the passion is for Republicans and where the ideas are coming from.”

 

As for Cain, the field’s only African-American candidate, his challenge will be to break through the cacophony of voices onstage.

 

“He needs to hope for some lightening in a bottle or something,” Darling said. “Cain, Santorum and even Gingrich are the candidates who are going to try to make their name during this and upcoming debates, they will be more aggressive as they try to differentiate themselves from the others.”

 

(Photo: Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

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