The best way to preview how Perry might perform tonight is to watch some of the highlights of his two most recent debates, which took place last year during the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary. (Perry did not debate his eventual Democratic opponent in the general election.)  I’ve posted the videos below.  Because these debates are so recent, many of the issues that Perry’s Republican opponents raise here are the same ones his Republican opponents might raise tonight — including his jobs record in Texas; his position on immigration and border security; his governor’s enterprise fund; and allegations that he raised taxes and supported the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Perry answers these charges and levels a few of his own. 

My impression watching him is that he’s a much better debater than some expect — no “knockout blows,” but no major gaffes either — and avoiding gaffes is often more important in political debates than scoring points. (For example, John Kerry was widely deemed the winner of his 2004 debates with President Bush, but Kerry’s gaffe about America needing to pass a “global test” before taking military action became a staple of Bush’s speeches on the campaign trail.)

And, as I point out in my Post column this week, all the stories asking “Is Perry dumb?” have helped Perry by  lowering expectations going into tonight’s debate. All he needs to do is put in a solid, workmanlike performance like the ones here.

Watch for yourself. I’ve highlighted some of the key moments.

The Texas Debate (Jan. 14, 2010)

For key moments, see video here.

Discussion of Texas unemployment rate (13:38)

Clash with Hutchison over his tax and economic record (18:35)

Tort reform/Eminent domain (26:39)

Exchange over TARP (29:20)

Hutchison alleges Perry raised taxes and Perry response (41:07)

Spars with Hutchison on their respective budget records (48:30)

Questions over immigration (52:08)

The Belo Debate (Jan. 29, 2010) — Part 1

Key moments:

Discussion of illegal immigration (10:54)

Accepting stimulus funds/budget shortfall (13:55)

Defending the governor’s enterprise fund (17:34)

Belo — Part 2

In-state tuition for children of illegal aliens (11:09)

Perry defends his border security record (14:24)

Defends mandatory HPV vaccine (14:59)

Will serve a full term (16:00)

Belo — Part 3

Discussion of whether most new Texas jobs are government jobs (0:20)

Belo — Part 4

Defending the governor’s enterprise fund (0:25)

Discussion of Trans-Texas Corridor (7:36)

Closing statement on his four principles of job creation (10:55)