All eyes were on Rick Perry last night to see if he could recover from an uneven performance in the last Florida debate 10 days ago.

What he did was turn in another uneven performance — or more accurately, a largely solid first half, followed by some pretty rough moments in the second half.

At the end of the night, it did little to put to rest the idea that he’s not quite ready for primetime. Or at least, primetime debates.

Perry handled himself better while playing defense this time, highlighting a personal story about a woman with cervical cancer who lobbied him in favor of his controversial HPV vaccine mandate, and emphasizing that parents could opt out of the mandate. This is what he should have been doing before. (Of course, as ABC’s Rick Klein noted, Perry met the woman in question after he had signed the order.)

He also had a ready response for attacks on his illegal immigration policy, noting that few of the other candidates have the kind of experience he has protecting the border. That’s a good way to guide the conversation away from tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.

On that very same issue, though, Perry showed where has plenty of work to do

When former senator Rick Santorum started to push Perry on his illegal immigration record, Perry made the mistake of asking Santorum whether he had been to the border. Of course, the former two-term senator has. Lots of members of Congress have. (And you don’t ask questions like that unless you’ve got a pretty good idea about the answer.)

That was symptomatic of Perry’s problems Thursday night. While he tried to recover from the attacks on himself by leveling his own attacks on the other candidates — mostly Mitt Romney, of course — he showed himself to be pretty inept at the art of the attack.

The most obvious example was when Perry tripped and stumbled over what was pretty obviously a prepared attack on Romney’s (ahem) evolution on certain issues, like abortion.

Perry kept getting the before-and-after part of the attack wrong, mixing up where Romney was before and where he is now. In the end, what Perry had was a jumbled mess that looked like a Saturday Night Live caricature of George W. Bush’s oratorical struggles.

Perry also had a tough time finding the words during a canned attack on Romney for the changes Romney made to certain passages of his book in later versions of it — particularly the ones on his health care bill.

Romney, meanwhile, was steady as ever, effectively turning that attack into an attack on Perry’s own consistency and coming off well.

“One reason to elect me is I know what I stand for, I’ve written it down,” Romney said. “Words have meaning, and I have the experience to get this country going.”

If Romney — whose own more moderate past is well-documented — can successfully paint Perry as a flip-flopper himself, Perry loses a major selling point for his candidacy.

And unlike Perry, Romney has actually shown an ability to level just such an attack.

Standing next to Romney yet again, Perry showed himself to be less well-prepared and not as good on his feet.

And for a guy that needs to convince the GOP faithful that he’s electable and could stand toe-to-toe with President Obama, he’s still got plenty of work to do.

There are a lot more debates left, and that could either be a very good thing for Perry or a very bad thing.

Democrat up 10 in West Virginia governor’s race: Acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has seen his lead decrease in recent weeks, but he still leads the state’s Oct. 4 special election by 10 points, according to a new poll for the Democratic Governors Association.

The Mellman Group poll shows Tomblin at 46 percent and Republican businessman Bill Maloney at 36 percent. The margin in late August was 14 points.

Republicans have been active in the race, with the Republican Governors Association paying for a series of ads. They appear to have a chance, but Tomblin is a pretty clear favorite.

NRCC event raises $1.5 million for vulnerable members: The National Republican Congressional Committee announced Thursday night that it has raised $1.5 million for 10 of its most vulnerable members.

The event, the second installment of the committee’s Patriot Day fundraiser, was held Thursday and benefitted three members each from Illinois and Ohio, along with Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Jon Runyan (R-N.J.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), and Scott Rigell (R-Va.).


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) reassures again that he’s not reconsidering his decision not to run for president.

Bush oversaw executions at a faster clip than Perry has.

Romney picks up another endorsement in New Hampshire.

Ron Paul runs an ad playing up his military service.

Paul will go on the Daily Show.

President Obama goes after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on their home turf.

Three people will be in charge of drawing Nevada’s new congressional districts, after the state legislature failed to pass a bill the governor would sign.

Utah lawmakers narrow their list of redistricting options to six.


In Reversal, Bachmann’s Struggles Now Include Money and Organization” — Trip Gabriel, New York Times

Christie’s next showcase” — Paul A. Gigot, Wall Street Journal