Is Texas Gov. Rick Perry ready to prove he has the policy chops to be the GOP nominee?

Perry’s uneven debate performances — struggling to explain his position on immigration, bungling a planned attack line against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, giving almost incoherent answer on a question about Pakistan — have caused Republican strategists and his GOP rivals to poke fun at Perry’s knowledge and intelligence. And Perry hasoffered positions that are well outside the Republican mainstream, such as suggesting retirement programs run by states should replace Social Security, that didn’t seem fully examined.

Rick Perry at a press conference with American and Israeli Jewish leaders at the W Hotel Union Square. (Michael Nagle /GETTY IMAGES )

This week, Perry could put those concerns aside. Not only is he participating in a Washington Post/Bloomberg debate in New Hampshire on Tuesday, but he’s also giving an economic policy speech Friday in Pittsburgh. In both instances, Perry will have to present his broader thoughts on the economy instead of just talking about Texas.

On a recent swing through Iowa, some of Perry’s comments suggested he is getting sharper at explaining his own positions and sticking to party orthodoxy. Asked about Social Security, Perry again mentioned his state-based idea, but also talked about raising the retirement age and reducing benefits for wealthy retirees, positions many Republicans, including Romney, have supported. (Perry did not detail what specifics these changes would entail)

Perry argued his controversial immigration stands, such as supporting in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, were designed to help the Texas economy.

“Are we to stagger up the age at which people will become eligible? We’re all living substantially longer than when Social Security was put into place. To me, that makes sense to move that age up,” Perry told a crowd in Sioux City. “Are we going to means-test it in some form or fashion? I don’t have a problem with that concept either.”

At the same time, when a voter asked him what books he had read to help inform his political views (similar to what Katie Couric famously asked Sarah Palin in 2008), he said “the book by Frederick Hayek” and then went on a long diatribe about the failings of Keynesian economics.

From the context, it appeared he was referring to a book by Hayek called “The Road to Serfdom,” that many conservatives cite as sort of guide to their opposition to economic stimulus-style programs such as what President Obama adopted in 2009.

Perry did not name any other titles.