September 8, 2011
By Susan Page
Rick Perry arrived at his first presidential debate packing heat.
The Texas governor who once shot a threatening coyote while jogging came armed, rhetorically, for his debut on the national political scene. He blasted rival Mitt Romney on job creation, doubled down on his critique of Social Security as a Ponzi scheme and defended his record on everything from education to climate change.
Perry's performance Wednesday night in the forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., demonstrated not only his considerable strength in the Republican primaries — he has rocketed to the top of the national polls little more than three weeks after announcing his candidacy — but also his clear vulnerabilities in a general election. . .
"He has to look energetic and well informed so people come away thinking, 'I need to know more about this guy,' " Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said before the debate began. That means walking a line: Convincing the Tea Party that he's one of them while addressing what Jillson called "some concern about this cowboy out of Texas."
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