What a difference just a few days can make in politics.
Rick Perry went into the Thursday, September 22nd GOP debate the clear front runner. His poor performance left him bloodied and beaten by both the GOP candidates who attacked him and the media who said he came across as unprepared and failing to offer specifics.
Then Herman Cain thumped him in the Florida straw poll, knocking him back to a second-place finish in which he received less than half of the votes Cain did.
Rick Perry is learning the hard way that all it takes is a couple of bad days to seriously undermine a campaign. Just how hard of a lesson that will be remains to be seen. Is it just a temporary set-back, or will it have the major implications that Michele Bachmann's HPV gaffe seems to have had on her campaign? (Bachmann finished first in the August Iowa staw poll, and finished last in Florida).
One thing that is becomming clear from all of the GOP campaign drama is that Republicans are keenly aware of Barack Obama's major strength as a candidate: his debate skills. Depite the low job numbers that have plaqued his candidacy, and the passage of a health care bill that nobody seems to have wanted, GOP voters know that if the Republican nominee can't effectively articulate their opposition to Obama, their campaign is toast.
Not only did one Florida delegate state that one reason he is backing Mitt Romney is because he feels he has the best shot of debating Obama, GOP focus group respondents who watched the 9/22 debate made it incredibily clear that they are watching closely to see which candidate is best equipped to take on the president in a debate. After the most recent debate, they don't think Perry can handle it.
Without taking a position on the producer's criticism of Sean Hannity, you can watch what focus group respondents had to say about Perry's debate performance on the following video.
So, what does all of this say about Rick Perry's long-term chances of winning the GOP nomination? It was just back in August that we wrote about how Rick Perry is the man to beat. We're not quite prepared to take that statement back... not just yet. Rick Perry will have to turn things around, however, and do it quickly if he wants to save his candidacy.