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Debate was the Rick Perry Show. But Mitt Romney was the scene-stealer

Eight Republican candidates stood on stage during Wednesday’s presidential debate, but it was really the Rick Perry show.

The tough-talking Texas governor introduced himself to the nation as pugnacious, proud, funny, genuine and disciplined. But he stumbled, too, tripped up by some of his own words as well as the barbs of his opponents and the moderators.

“I kind of feel like the piñata here at the party,” Perry said at one point in the thick of the debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library.

Perry can expect more whacks.

Until now, he has lived in a Zen-like political world: rocketing to frontrunner campaign status by not campaigning. Now he has been drafted. Campaign season has unofficially begun with the end of Labor Day. And the public is tuning in.

As Perry did Wednesday, he’ll now have to explain and explain again why he called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and said its future solvency was a “monstrous lie.” He’ll have to explain again why so many Texans are uninsured and work at low-wage jobs. And he’ll have to explain again why he signed an executive order that virtually required girls to get vaccinated for human papillomavirus.

Mitt Romney and his campaign will make sure he’s asked about it all.

The former Massachusetts governor is running in second place, eclipsed only recently by Perry. And his team wants Perry to explain away because, as they say in politics: when you’re explaining, you’re losing.

Judging by Romney’s performance last night – cool, steady, earnest, knowledgeable – Perry won’t be a clear front-runner for long. Though Wednesday was the Rick Perry Show, Romney was the debate’s star.

Analysis here