Texas Gov. Rick Perry appeared to fall short once again in Tuesday’s GOP debate, delivering a performance that was marginally improved but not the game changer that many pundits felt he needed to reverse a serious slide in the opinion polls.
“He acted like a man with an oil well stuck on top of his head,” complained Matt Towery, CEO of the InsiderAdvantage polling company. “That’s all he can talk about: Texas and oil … and unfortunately that is not going to be enough to bring his campaign out of the doldrums.
“He was flat again,” Towery added. “At one point they flashed to him and he looked thoroughly confused. I just think he needed more. He didn’t get it. Herman Cain was the aggressor tonight … he’s obviously not afraid to say what he thinks.”
Political guru Dr. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics tweeted: “I can’t imagine the Perry people can be happy. Perry didn’t stand out, got tough questions, few memorable zingers for his opponents.”
Perry clearly took a less combative approach. He largely avoided trading shots with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a tactic that did not appear to work well for him in prior debates.
In part, Perry appeared handcuffed by the economic focus of Tuesday’s GOP debate. After fewer than 10 weeks on the campaign trail, Perry has yet to roll out a detailed economic plan. The “jobs only” focus of the Bloomberg-Washington Post debate meant a great deal of time was spent dissecting former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, which calls for a 9 percent flat tax for businesses, a 9 percent flat tax for individuals, and a 9 percent national sales tax. The focus on Cain’s economic proposal had the effect of taking the spotlight off Perry.
Some observers speculated Perry may have been unnerved by the major endorsement that rival Mitt Romney won earlier in the day from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Prior to the debate, Cain predicted that his rapid ascent in the polls meant his economic plan would become a target for attacks. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum did express strong skepticism that Cain’s plan could squeak through Congress. Also, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman noted the catchy title of Cain’s proposal. “I thought it was the price of a pizza when I first heard about it,” he said.
That remark drew laughter from the crowd, but Cain immediately fired back.
“9-9-9 will pass,” Cain said confidently, “and it’s not the price of a pizza, because it has been well studied and well developed… it starts with, unlike your proposals, throwing out the current tax code. Continuing to pivot off the current tax code is not going to boost this economy. This is why we developed 9-9-9 … and it will pass … because the American people want it to pass.”
Asked who had advised him on the plan, Cain cited a Cleveland, Ohio, economic adviser named Rich Lowrie. Politico.com reported Lowrie is in fact not an economist, but rather is a wealth manager for Wells Fargo who earned an accounting degree from Case Western Reserve University.
Although Cain may be called upon to reveal the other architects behind his policy proposals, he turned in strong performance considering that he took serious incoming fire from the other candidates for the first time in the debate.
“I thought he acquitted himself well,” conservative political strategist Roger Stone told Newsmax.
But Stone also said Perry turned in a stronger performance than that seen in his earlier debates. He warned it would be a mistake to assume Perry can’t revive a candidacy that broke fast out of the gate but has faded since.
“He has the money to slug it out,” said Stone. “He can go buy Iowa, in all honesty. And he has to go to each state and use television to change the perception. This is not a national contest. It’s a series of 50 small contests.”
Stone criticized Cain for embarking on a book-promotion tour rather than spending the rest of the week in Iowa.
“He’s hot right now. He could pull huge crowds in Iowa … instead, he’s out enjoying his newfound celebrity, selling book -- an error, in my opinion,” Stone said.
But Stone added that clearly Cain is now a first-tier candidate in the race for the nomination.
Cain focused like a laser beam during the debate on what his tax reform plan would do to resuscitate the economy. When asked about auditing the Federal Reserve, Cain said that would be fine but was not a priority.
“My top priority is 9-9-9! Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” he insisted.
Each candidate had a moment to shine in the debate. Rep. Michele Bachmann appeared more comfortable and less strident in the Tuesday format that had the candidates seated at a table rather than standing. Stone said he was surprised, however, that she continues to take shots at fellow conservative Perry, rather than focusing on establishment front-runner Romney.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich no doubt made headlines with his proposal to fire Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasure Secretary Timothy Geithner, as well as suggesting that Rep. Barney Frank and former Sen. Chuck Dodd should face possible jail time for not properly supervising Wall Street.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul has seen the other candidates gradually emulate his staunch criticism of the lack of transparency at the Fed.
Of the Fed's internal workings, he said, “We’re getting to the bottom of it. But if you want to understand why we have a problem, you have to understand the Fed, because the cause comes from the business cycle.”
Towery said that he continues to be surprised by Cain’s ability to leverage his business experience and marketing skills, boiling down complex ideas into straightforward slogans that people can understand.,
“In terms of the candidates walking away tonight, it was Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, two businessmen. Both know business, both handled themselves well,” Towery said. “The big loser was Perry.”
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