Can Rick Perry avoid fumbling away his lead?

The Texas governor’s performances in his first two debates, in which Perry has struggled at times to answer questions about his record, have at times worried even his supporters. He’ll face the same dilemma at the Fox News GOP debate Thursday night.

And Perry is likely to again face attacks from the left and the right in Thursday’s debate in Orlando. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s campaign Wednesday released a detailed list of questions about Perry’s views on Social Security, previewing Romney’s strategy for the debate.

The questions press for specifics from Perry, who has in the past suggested Social Security is unconstitutional and states and localities should create their own retirement programs in place of it. (“How would a state-by-state system accommodate the enormous number of Americans who move across state lines during their lives, and especially as retirement nears?” is one of Romney’s questions .)

Meanwhile, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), both trying to pry the votes of tea party conservatives from Perry, are likely to repeat their criticisms of the Texas governor for backing a provision allowing children of illegal immigrants in Texas to pay in-state college tuition and attempting to require all teenage girls in his state to take a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer.

National polls after the first two debates show Perry still leading the Republican field, suggesting his rivals’ criticisms have so far had limited impact. But Perry, because of his late entrance in the race, is trying to raise enough money to catch up with Romney, who brought in nearly $20 million in the first six months of the year.

And party donors who have not yet decided on a candidate are watching the debates carefully and trying to determine if Perry fulfills their chief criteria: finding a candidate who can win the general election against President Obama. Romney has strongly made the case that Perry’s Social Security views would render him unelectable.

So far, Perry has largely avoided details on Social Security, pledging to keep intact the current system for people near retirement, but arguing it must be reformed to account for a growing number of retirees who are living longer. He may be pressed on Thursday by moderators and his opponents to provide a more detailed plan.


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