In the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove writes that at Thursday's Republican debate in Tampa, frontrunner Rick Perry "needs to change the dynamic of the debates, in which he's been (in his words) the piñata." But that might be hard for Perry to do. The Texas governor is a good tool for the other candidates to show they're either more conservative or more electable than he is.
Politico's Maggie Haberman predicts that two issues Florida voters care a lot about are Social Security and immigration--two issues Romney thinks Perry is weak on. Romney has been attacking Perry on Social Security for weeks now, and Perry complained on Fox News that scaring seniors was an "old tactic" used by Democrats, The New York Times' Michael D. Shear notes. The day of the debate, the anti-immigration group Center for Immigration Studies released a study saying Census data shows that 81 percent of the jobs created in Texas since 2007 went to immigrants, half of them illegal. The Washington Examiner's Byron York says the group explicitly goes after Perry's jobs record, arguing, "Among the native-born, Texas ranks 22nd in terms of unemployment and 29th in terms of its employment rate."
Romney will also explicitly say he's more electable than Perry, as he told with USA Today's Susan Page, in what Page calls a "caustic critique" of his opponent. He can point to a new poll in New Hampshire by Suffolk University/7 News showing Romney with 41 percent of the vote there, and Perry with just 8 percent. The poll shows that even Jon Huntsman is beating Perry with 10 percent of voters' support.
Stylistically, Romney has the upperhand, too. Haberman calls him "the best debater on stage," while at the last debate, Perry looked "ill-prepared, and something close to fatigued, especially during the second half, underscoring existing questions for Republicans on the sidelines about whether the Texas governor is prepared for the rigors of the presidential nominating process." Rove calls Perry's two performances "okay-to-mediocre"--and that it's "dangerous, since much of his support is based on what people believe him to be rather than what they know him to be." (That's a frequent attack on President Obama, that his appeal was based on voters seeing in him what they wanted to see.)
The less-well-known candidates will be focusing on Perry too. Rick Santorum is eager to show Perry is a "Johnny-come-lately" on Israel, Republican strategist Scott Reed told Haberman. And Michele Bachmann will try to "break into the Romney-Perry conversation," Shear writes, similar to how she attacked Perry for mandating an HPV vaccine, but without ruining it by making a mistake like when she incorrectly implied the vaccine could cause mental retardation.