Rick Perry in the spotlight in Republican debate

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 07, 2011 4:53 AM
Rick Perry in the spotlight in Republican debate

By Steve Holland

SIMI VALLEY, California (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry will be the man in the spotlight when Republican presidential candidates gather at Ronald Reagan's library for a debate on Wednesday.

The conservative Perry, who has soared to front-runner status in just a few weeks as an official candidate, is to appear for the first time on the same stage as his rivals, who will be trying to knock him off his perch.

The event is the first in a series of debates over the next six weeks that will help define the Republican race, which increasingly looks like a two-man contest between Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Perry, buoyed by support from Tea Party activists, has been able to dispatch Romney to secondary status in public opinion polls.

Romney will be watched to see if he goes on the attack to make up ground against Perry.

The two have already been bickering. Romney alluded to the Texas governor as a "career politician" on a recent trip to Texas. He may pursue that line in promoting his belief that his own business experience would help him repair the stagnant U.S. economy.

Perry is touting his stewardship of Texas' economy as a selling point for his candidacy. After Romney unveiled a jobs plan that would cut government regulations and overhaul the tax code, the Perry campaign said Romney as Massachusetts governor "failed to institute many of the reforms he now claims to support."

Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann has been fading despite winning a straw poll in Iowa in August, and the debate will give her an opportunity to try to reignite her candidacy.

Perry so far has clearly out-performed Bachmann in their race to decide who is the conservative alternative to Romney.

Bachmann's campaign manager Ed Rollins, before taking on a reduced role as a senior adviser in her campaign, conceded that Perry's entry into the race had slowed Bachmann's momentum.

"Legitimately, it's a Romney-Perry race," Rollins told CNN. I think she's the third candidate at this point in time, which is way different and better than we thought when we started this thing and she's very much in this thing."

Others expected to participate in the debate include former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Representative Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman.

One name likely to come up often in the debate is President Barack Obama, who is in the doldrums in public opinion polls as Americans question his handling of the U.S. economy.

Obama is to lay out his own plan to create jobs on Thursday in a speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

(Editing by Christopher Wilson)