Tonight's debate is Perry's last chance

If Perry stumbles again, coming off as inarticulate or defensive, the damage to his campaign could prove terminal. One bad debate turn for a new candidate may be excusable, but two is troubling. To turn in three or even four weak showings would be more than sufficient to send donors and voters alike scurrying away for good.

The Texan is taking steps to bolster his preparations. After previously just walking through issues with a few longtime aides – typically chief strategist Dave Carney and policy director Deidre Delisi – Perry has brought in additional help, said a source familiar with the planning. And, as the New York Times reported Monday, he’s now practicing against someone playing the Mitt Romney role. Some in Perry’s orbit still worry, however, that he’s not spent enough time getting ready for the forum. He had time carved out Monday for practice, but had an intense schedule of retail events and private meetings in Washington and Iowa over the weekend…

Perry officials, however, say they have little inclination to use the Washington Post/Bloomberg forum at Dartmouth to proactively attempt to stop the bleeding on immigration or to shift the race with an onslaught aimed at Romney.

Rather, they see the next two debates, an energy-focused speech Friday in Pittsburgh and subsequent policy addresses as an opportunity to get Perry back to his core jobs-and-economy message.