With just 2 1/2 months until Republican voters start heading to the polls, the race for the Republican presidential nomination is at last poised to switch into overdrive.
Soon, the airwaves in early voting states will be saturated with campaign ads, and the leading contenders who have spent the bulk of their time cultivating a message and raising money will now make their cases with voters in person and in TV ads.
The next stage of the campaign comes after the candidates squared off in a half-dozen debates in less than six weeks; they won’t share a debate stage again until Nov. 9 in Michigan.
The shift in the political calendar is welcome news for Rick Perry, who has tumbled in the polls after struggling in the debates.
Perry, however, is the only GOP contender who has kept pace with front-runner Mitt Romney in fundraising, and he figures to benefit from the renewed focus on retail politicking, since he is typically at his most effective in face-to-face interactions with voters.
“Candidates will move off the televised stage and into the living rooms and coffee shops in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and that’s where Perry delivers his message better than anyone on the campaign trail,” said the Texas governor’s Iowa strategist Bob Haus.
Seeking to seize the momentum from Herman Cain – whose “9-9-9” tax plan was attacked by almost all of the other candidates during Tuesday night’s debate -- Perry will unveil an eye-catching policy proposal of his own next week.
Having declining to provide a specific economic plan since entering the race in August, Perry will call for a nationwide flat tax during a speech Tuesday in South Carolina.
But Perry’s next big chance to distinguish himself from the other candidates vying to become the conservative alternative to Romney will occur Saturday at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s (IFFC) fall banquet in Des Moines.
Cain, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum will join Perry at the event, which is being hosted by the most prominent and politically active Christian conservative interest group in the nation’s first voting state.
The candidates will not share the stage at the forum, however, as IFFC President Steve Scheffler and Iowa state Sen. Jerry Behn will take turns questioning each contender individually for about 20 minutes in front of an expected crowd of over 800 activists and likely caucus-goers.
Perry will seek to use the event to re-launch his campaign in a state that once looked to be his to lose but now seems wide open.