GOP front-runner Rick Perry needs a strong presidential debate on Thursday if he is to keep his position at the head of the Republican pack, says Karl Rove.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal,
the former White House aide and political adviser to former President George W. Bush, says Perry’s two debate performances have been merely “OK-to-mediocre,” with the second one the weaker.
“This is dangerous, since much of his support is based on what people believe him to be rather than what they know him to be,” writes Rove.
The Texas governor, he said, should try to “pivot away” from his view that social security should be turned over to the states and instead argue for its reform.
“More importantly, Mr. Perry needs to change the dynamic of the debates, in which he's been (in his words) the piñata.”
Perry’s lead over his main contender Mitt Romney has been slipping in recent polls. But more importantly Romney is consistently shown to be able to beat President Barack Obama, while there is still doubt that Perry could.
A Quinnipiac University survey released on Thursday showed that Perry now holds a six-point lead over Romney among Florida Republicans, but the former Massachusetts governor would beat Obama by seven points while Perry would lose by two.
That means the contest will increasingly be what PBS’ Newshour described as "Obama-lite vs. electability.”
In a clear swipe at his main rival on the eve of the debate, Perry told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “We don't need to nominate Obama-lite. We don't need to nominate someone who is going to blur the lines between President Obama and our nominee.
“When you take a look at what Mitt did from the standpoint of Romneycare in Massachusetts, you're going to have a hard time finding a difference between Obamacare and Romneycare,” added Perry. “I mean that's just the facts and there is no way around it. The facts are the facts."
|The Big Three: Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. All three need strong debate performances to keep their campaigns on track, says strategist Karl Rove. (AP Photo)
For his part, Romney, in interviews with both Newsmax.TV and USA Today concentrated his attacks on Perry for his positions on social security and immigration, telling Newsmax the Texan policy of providing tuition to the children of undocumented workers is a “magnet” for illegals.
Rove too sees Thursday’s debate as primarily a battle between the two men and says they will continue to go after each other. “Just as Mr. Romney has put Mr. Perry on defense on Social Security, Mr. Perry must put Mr. Romney on defense over health care,” he writes.
“That's because in part by his questioning Mr. Perry's views on Social Security, Mr. Romney has closed on the Texas governor in recent polls.”
Romney, Rove says, has been “has been crisp, sharp, reassuring and in command” during earlier debates, but needs “a stronger explanation” for the health care law he signed into law while in the Statehouse in Boston.
“Mr. Romney also needs to light a spark among GOP voters. Most like him and see him as competent and capable. What's missing is energy and excitement. Offering this to them in a way consistent with his personality and record may not be easy.”
As for the other candidates, Rove says Thursday is make-or-break for Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has to repair the “enormous damage” she caused by saying after the last debate that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation without any evidence.
“Ms. Bachmann has at times shown herself to be a formidable debater. She better be again tonight or she may not remain competitive in Iowa,” writes Rove, who served as Deputy Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush. “And if she doesn't win Iowa, her quest is over.”
According to the Quinnipiac poll, Bachmann has fallen to just 5 percent among registered Florida Republicans, putting her behind not only Perry and Romney, but also former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin – who has not announced she is running – former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank chairman Herman Cain and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
In his column, Rove singled out former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum for praise, saying that along with Romney he has been the most impressive debater so far.
“Getting into scraps with other candidates has helped, and he's had strong, even Reaganesque, moments on foreign policy. His challenge tonight is to get a shot at Iowa by shouldering aside Ms. Bachmann as the social conservative favorite.”
Tonight’s debate in Orlando, Fla. will be aired on Fox News. It will see the debut of former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who has been excluded from previous debates because of low poll numbers.
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