Cruz, Perry hope to shine – or at least appear – at GOP 2016 debate

FILE- In this July 13, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a meet and greet with local residents, in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
FILE- In this July 13, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a meet and greet with local residents, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. AP

The two Texans running for president, Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry, need the exposure of next week’s first Republican presidential debate, but for different reasons.

Cruz had a strong start after his campaign announcement in March, but has floundered in the polls and is hovering in the middle of the field of 17 candidates. He has found his firebrand style, usually a crowd-pleaser in conservative circles, dimmed by outspoken frontrunner, New York billionaire Donald Trump.

In an average of recent polls of the Republican field by Real Clear Politics, Cruz was eighth with 5.2 percent and Perry eleventh with 2.2 percent.

Perry is so far down in the polls he may not make the top 10 cut-off, as determined by criteria set by Fox News, the host of the first Republican National Committee debate in Cleveland on Aug. 6.

If he does make the cut, Perry will need to erase the memory of his debate appearance during the 2012 presidential race when he said “oops” after forgetting the name of a federal agency he wanted to eliminate. Failing that, Perry may find it even harder to get attention.

“Anyone put at the kids' table will have to struggle to survive,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “So I'm sure Perry is sweating it out.”

Perry campaign spokesperson Lucy Nashed said they are “confident” he will be invited to the marquee event.

I think Americans want to see somebody who's got the experience running a really big entity – the 12th largest in the world.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry

“If Perry is able to snag one of the last two podiums available in Cleveland, we can expect him to lead the offensive against Trump, attempting to position himself on the debate stage as Trump's principal adversary in the GOP field,” said Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University

Fox is due to announce the list on Tuesday. The consolation prize for those left out of the top 10 will be a campaign forum earlier in the day.

Perry has called out Trump, saying he is “a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense,” especially for his characterization of Mexicans entering the U.S. illegally as “rapists.”

Cruz, on the other hand, has defended Trump for talking about the issue of illegal immigration, only saying he would not describe it in the same way. The Texas senator is banking that he can appeal to Trump’s anti-establishment supporters.

Since his failed 2012 bid, Perry has transformed his image with a new look – designer glasses instead of contacts; loafers have replaced cowboy boots – and wants to show a national audience that his study and preparation over the last two years has paid off.

“While not being on the stage for the prime time Fox News debate would not be the death knell of Perry’s presidential bid, it would represent a major setback,” said Jones, especially for his fundraising.

Austin Barbour, senior adviser to a group of super PACs supporting Perry, said, “Donors want to see him on that debate stage.”

Barbour told McClatchy that he has assured donors that even if Perry doesn’t get in the Fox debate, there will be many other opportunities, notably Monday’s Voters First Forum in New Hampshire. All the Republican candidates have been invited to the evening event sponsored by the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper and papers from the other early voting states of South Carolina and Iowa. It will be broadcast by C-SPAN.

Cruz, who will appear at the New Hampshire forum via satellite because the Senate will be in session, has recently been a magnet for attention, and not necessarily positive. He has angered many of the Republican colleagues by calling Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a liar.

“Being inflammatory, that’s his M.O.,” said Bill Miller, a Texas political consultant who advises members of both parties.

And that is what his supporters expect him to be on the stage. Cruz was a champion college debater and a litigator in his career who won the Senate seat in 2012 in his first run at elective office.

“Ted Cruz just needs to be Ted Cruz,” said JoAnn Fleming, just named Texas Tea Party chairwoman to the Cruz campaign. “He knows how to articulate the constitutional conservative point of view.”