Neither fund raising nor the building of grass-roots organizations in key primary states is driving the Republican presidential race. Endorsements haven't mattered much either. Stump speeches have been of minimal importance. And policy papers—such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 59-point economic plan or ex-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's proposal for tax rate cuts—have been largely overlooked.There's no question that Rick Perry's quick rise in the polls was stopped and reversed by his debate performances, and that's really a shame. People who have known Perry for years and know how he operates as governor say they don't even recognize the guy they see in the debates. Either he's just not good at it, or has not been properly prepared. In addition, he seems to wear out after the first hour or so. All of that adds up to trouble for the Perry campaign.
By far the biggest influence on the Republican contest has been the series of nationally televised debates. There have been more debates than ever—six so far—and they have attracted record audiences. The most recent debate on Sept. 22 on Fox News drew more than six million TV viewers, plus another six million watching on streaming video.
The debates have overwhelmed the Republican race. "They are about all there's been to the campaign," says Fox political commentator Brit Hume. After each debate the campaign has been frozen until the next one, except for arguments over issues spawned by the debates themselves.
Herman Cain, who was more or less marginalized in the early debates is now charging up the rankings and will be given a prominent center position at the next event. If he continues knocking it out the way he has, he's going to end up with all the NotRomney vote that looked sure to go to Perry. This next debate will be important.