9 p.m. ET on Fox News. Things the candidates could be talking about tonight: The impending worldwide recession and resulting bloodletting on Wall Street; attacks on the United States by our terror-master “allies” in Pakistan; the DOJ’s curious reticence about its funny little program to sell machine guns to Mexican drug cartels; and of course the nagging problem of how we’re going to restructure our budget to make it sustainable long-term. Things the candidates will likely end up talking about tonight instead: Who loves Social Security the mostest; whether Rick Perry, driven mad by corporate money, was a bit too anti-cancer; why it might not be a terrible thing if Iran had nuclear weapons (big opportunity for Gary Johnson in his comeback); and of course the inevitable Troy Davis/capital punishment question.

As long as we’ll be focusing on subjects largely unrelated to the economic catastrophe that’s about to befall us, I wouldn’t mind a question for Perry on this:

Texas governor Rick Perry has pointed to job growth in Texas during the current economic downturn as one of his main accomplishments. But in a new report for the Center for Immigration Studies, based on data collected monthly by the Census Bureau, we found that newly arrived immigrants (legal and illegal) have been the primary beneficiaries of this growth between 2007 and 2011, not native-born workers.

We found that of jobs created in Texas since 2007, 81 percent (225,000) were taken by newly arrived foreign workers (legal and illegal). The Census Bureau asks immigrants to say when they came to the United States, so it is easy to look at new arrivals who took jobs. Of newly arrived immigrants who took a job in Texas, the data show that 93 percent were not U.S. citizens. We estimate that about half of newly arrived immigrants who took jobs in Texas since 2007 were illegal immigrants. This means that about 40 percent of all the job growth in Texas between 2007 and 2011 went to newly arrived illegal immigrants and 40 percent went to newly arrived legal immigrants.

What is so surprising about these numbers is that so much of the job growth in the state went to immigrants even though the native-born accounted for 69 percent of the growth in Texas’s working-age population (16 to 65). Put another way, even though natives made up most of the growth in potential workers, most of the job growth went to immigrants. As a result, the employment rate for natives — the share of working-age natives holding a job in the state — declined in a manner very similar to that seen in the rest of the country. This is an indication that the situation for native-born workers in Texas is very similar to that of the nation as a whole, despite the state’s job growth.

Actually, we don’t need a question on that. Romney will bring it up himself at the first mention of Perry’s jobs record. It’s not a devastating critique insofar as jobs created are jobs created, regardless of who’s filling them, but it opens the door for Mitt to press him on what Texas’s jobs picture would look like without those “new arrivals” to stimulate extra demand. If he can convince voters that Perry’s chief credential for the presidency is somehow a function of Texas’s geography, the main pillar holding up his campaign starts to crack. Perry’s goal tonight, meanwhile, is simply to go on offense and make Romney sweat, which somehow no one’s done over the course of five debates. If he’s smart he’ll borrow Philip Klein’s RomneyCare critique and wonder how a candidate who’s infamous for flip-flopping and soft on big-government initiatives like mandates could ever be expected to repeal ObamaCare or reform entitlements if elected. Last night’s Hannity interview offered a glimpse of that — Perry referred to Romney as “Obama lite” — but today his campaign’s circulating a dopey attack mocking the fabulously rich Romney for his blue-collar pretenses. (“Middle Class Mitt!”) If that’s the bazooka in Perry’s arsenal, it’s going to be a long night.

Here’s your Hot Air/Townhall Twitter widget for insta-reactions. While you wait, for a necessary shot of perspective, read this piece on the gathering economic storm by Walter Russell Mead. It is indeed panic time. Exit question: Is Nate Silver right that the media’s already designated Huntsman the “winner” of the debate based on his surprise double-digit showing in the new New Hampshire poll? (Ahead of Rick Perry, do note.) That prefab “Huntsmania!” narrative they’ve been itching to push needs data points, my friends.