Two weeks ago, it was Perry 44, Obama 41. Today, this. What happened? Oh … right.

Although…

Perry trails Obama by 15 percentage points among women and barely leads among men. Perry trails among voters under 40, runs even among 40-somethings and leads among those 50 and older. It’s worth remembering that most voters over 40 voted against Obama in 2008.

Perry currently attracts just 71% of the Republican vote, while the president wins 85% of Democrats. Among voters not affiliated with either party, the race is a toss-up.

His numbers among Republicans will soar if he’s the nominee, as they would for any other candidate in the field, but I’m not sure what to make of the fact that he leads O among the over-50 crowd. Like Ras says, that’s to be expected given Obama’s track record in 2008, but maybe it’s also anecdotal evidence that Social Security isn’t hurting Perry as badly as we think. Could be his numbers are down simply because his overall performance at the debates has been lackluster, especially given the high expectations that accompanied his “big hoss”/white knight persona when he jumped in. In fact, Rasmussen’s crosstabs reveal that Perry leads Obama 49/38 among voters aged 65 or over. In 2008, McCain won that demographic 53/45. Perry’s outperforming him — for the moment.

Another data point from Gallup. Note the line on independents:

Worse than this, perhaps, is that pluralities of both Republicans (37 percent) and independents (40 percent) think Perry’s views on Social Security will hurt his election chances. That’s a potentially deadly liability, especially in a long primary race where electability may become more important the closer we get to the general campaign. If Romney and Perry are roughly even in delegates after two months and umpteen debates, undecideds may try to break the stalemate by looking to the most basic qualification of all — viability against Obama. And unless I’m missing something, there’s no obvious way for Perry to undo this perception that he’s less electable because of his Social Security views. Voters have heard for decades that it’s the “third rail of American politics”; they know Bush was routed when he tried to engage on privatization in 2005. Even if Perry comes up with his own reform plan — which may be in the works, as he’s now talking to Paul Ryan — the mere fact that this became a major issue early on may influence the public’s image of Perry going forward.

One more piece of bad news for Perryites:

The unemployment rate in Texas rose a bit in August to 8.5%, its highest rate since 1987.

That leaves the Lone Star State in the middle of the pack nationally, but it’s jobless rate remains below the national rate of 9.1%. The uptick, reported Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is worth noting since Texas Gov. Rick Perry has based his presidential campaign on his state’s ability to create jobs while much of the country is stuck in the economic doldrums.

Mr. Perry’s campaign blamed President Barack Obama. “Texas is not immune to the effects of the national recession,” Mr. Perry’s spokesman, Mark Miner, said in an email. “And even during this national economic downturn, which the president’s misguided policies have only worsened, Texas remains the nation’s top economy.”

That’s neat spin, but Texas’s economic record is the pillar holding his entire campaign up. If it starts to crack as the race wears on, his chances could collapse. Especially given the other electability concerns.

Late poll tonight, just out as I write this: Perry 23, Romney 16, Gingrich 7, Bachmann 7.

Update: Yet another liability: Did Perry support TARP?

The AP covered the letter [dated October 1, 2008 and co-signed by the RGA and DGA] with the headline, “Governors, Business Up Pressure for Bailout Bill.” It’s very hard to read otherwise.

“We strongly urge Congress to leave partisanship at the door and pass an economic recovery package,” they wrote. “It is time for Washington, D.C. to step up, be responsible, an do what’s in the best interest of American taxpayers and our economy.”

Perry, later that day, released a statement that seemed aimed at countering the impression left by his letter without clarifying what he was calling for: “[G]overnment should not be in the business of using taxpayer dollars to bail out corporate America. Congress needs to take off its partisan gloves and work together to bring both short and long term stability to the credit markets….”

Perry maintained in the 2010 primary that he hadn’t supported the bailout, something his spokesman Mark Miner reiterated to me today.

He opposed a “bail out” but publicly supported an “economic recovery package” on the day Congress passed TARP. Essentially, he punted.