It was a good debate night for the campaigns of Rick Perry and Ted Cruz, the two Texans in the mix for the Republican presidential nomination.
But was it good enough?
Perry just missed the top 10 cut for the Fox News prime time debate Thursday night and wound up in an afternoon forum of the remaining seven candidates. A former Texas governor, he forcefully promoted his 14-year record in Austin, but was overshadowed by breakout star Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
Cruz made the main debate stage at the evening event, taking his place among the top 10 Republican hopefuls, based on recent polling. Though a skillful debater, he got very little airtime in the crowded field as the central focus was on frontrunner Donald Trump, the billionaire New York developer and reality television star who has up-ended the Republican presidential primary race with his bluster and candor.
So Cruz and Perry are hitting the hustings; Perry to Iowa and South Carolina, and Cruz on a week-long Southern bus tour. Each hopes to shine brighter in the next debate, a CNN-sponsored, GOP-sanctioned encounter Sept. 16 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
Once again, only the top 10 contenders at the time will be on the main stage.
Last time Perry ran, he zoomed to the front of the pack. This time he's the tortoise. Last time he was the hare.
“For Perry, who is 11th in the polls and runs the risk of Carly Fiorina leapfrogging him over the next few weeks, the debate did not provide the substantial positive momentum that he needed to vault clearly into the top 10 candidates who will be on stage in the September CNN debate,” said Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University. “Perry certainly did more than enough to stay in the game, but not enough to change the game in the way that Carly Fiorina appears to have done.”
As for Cruz, Jones said that his limited time on camera didn’t gain him much attention in the crowded field. Trump, unsurprisingly, got the most.
“The most positive thing for Cruz to come out of the evening was Donald Trump's behavior and policy responses, which are not anywhere close to being presidential,” he said.
But Perry has more at stake, due to his lower standing in the polls and the lingering memory of his failed 2012 presidential campaign, where he said “oops” when he couldn’t remember the third federal agency he wanted to eliminate.
But his supporters are bullish. A super PAC that supports him, the Opportunity and Freedom PAC, released a statement from Senior Adviser Austin Barbour: “Governor Perry did a great job tonight explaining to the country why his record is unique among the candidates in the race.”
Referring to his service as a pilot in U.S. Air Force, Barbour said, “Nobody else in either debate has served in the military and as chief executive of the most successful job-creating state in the nation.”
Austin Barbour’s brother Henry, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi and a strategist for the Perry campaign, said the former governor is a mainstream conservative, but “part of his path is some folks in front of him have to stumble.”
Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said for now, “Perry is in more trouble than Cruz.” Competing against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current chief executives Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio, he is having a harder time making his case.
“Cruz has Trump in his lane, but when Trump fades, Cruz might get more attention,” Jillson said.