1. Perry leads all major national polls heading into debate Ahead of tonight’s debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry continues to hold a modest lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican nomination, clocking in most recently at 31 percent in a poll by USA Today and Gallup. Romney is steady in the mid-to-low 20s.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) breaks double digits in most polls with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who saw a sharp drop in support among conservatives after Perry’s entry, following close behind. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich. businessman Herman Cain, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman all stand in single digits, and former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson – appearing in his first debate of the cycle – stands at 1 percent or below in almost every poll to date.

2. Florida’s GOP primary contest appears to be a two man race – Perry holds a slight 28-22 edge over Romney among Florida Republicans, with all other candidates in single digits, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday. Perry’s support peaks at 36 percent among strong tea party supporters.

But the new GOP frontrunner doesn’t run quite as strong against President Obama as Romney. Perry splits 42-44 percent with Obama among all Florida voters in a general election matchup, while Romney edges 47-40 percent over the incumbent. It’s too early to say whether Perry’s Social Security remarks are having an impact, but there’s potential. Almost six in 10 voters say calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” is unfair.

3. Huntsman rising in New Hampshire? The news media and Twitter lit up this morning over a newly released Siena College poll showing Huntsman earning 10 percent support, tripling his 3 percent mark in June (Romney still holds a commanding 41 percent of the vote). But the poll skews much older than primary electorates in recent cycles, a factor that seems to boost Huntsman’s support.

Fully 35 percent of poll respondents were age 65 and older, more than double the proportions in 2008, 2000 or 1996 exit polls, eclipsing the percent of seniors in any GOP primary in 2008, including Florida. Huntsman earns 18 percent support among likely voters over 65, compared with 8 percent among 45-64 year olds and a scant 2 percent of younger voters. Adjusting the poll to match the 2008 exit poll’s age distribution, Huntsman’s support goes to 7 rather than 10 percent. Seven and 10 percent aren’t much different, but “double digits” and “3rd place” wins more media coverage than “7 percent” and “4th place”

Siena College pollster Doug Paleologos notes that the median age has bumped up in the past few years, from 40.2 in 2008 to 41.1 in 2010, and that young voters don’t seem to be energized by the Republican candidates in his state.

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