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September has come roaring in for the 2012 Republican candidates with two debates in less than a week and a third debate scheduled next Thursday, September 22nd. Texas Governor Rick Perry has taken somewhat of a beating in the first two September debates and this comes as no surprise given his rapid ascension in the polls. The campaign is moving quickly now, changing day by day as leads are gained or lost over a news cycle.

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In case you missed either debate in September or any other debate so far, you can watch them all with links off the 2012 Primary Debate schedule page.

Perry took strong criticism over the HPV vaccine issue and the New York Times tries to sum up this discussion:

An unlikely issue — whether to vaccinate preadolescent girls against a sexually transmitted virus — has become the latest flashpoint among Republican presidential candidates as they vie for the support of social conservatives and Tea Party members.

The issue exploded Monday night when Representative Michele Bachmann and former Senator Rick Santorum attacked Gov. Rick Perry of Texas during a debate for issuing an executive order requiring sixth-grade girls to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, criticizing the order as an overreach of state power in a decision properly left to parents. Later, Sarah Palin, who has yet to announce her 2012 intentions, also found fault with Mr. Perry.

The issue pushes many buttons with conservatives: overreach of government in health care decisions, suspicion that sex education leads to promiscuity and even the belief — debunked by science — that childhood vaccinations may be linked to mental disorders.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Bachmann of Minnesota raised that concern by suggesting Mr. Perry had put young girls at risk by forcing “an injection of what could potentially be a very dangerous drug.” Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, she recounted that after the debate in Tampa, Fla., a tearful mother approached and said her daughter had suffered “mental retardation” after being vaccinated against HPV. “It can have very dangerous side effects,” Mrs. Bachmann said.

The focus on Mr. Perry’s record on the issue put him on the defensive during a debate for the second week in a row, this time among his core constituency of Tea Party voters.

“It’s the perfect storm of an issue,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Republican Party of Iowa, noting that Mr. Perry, the front-runner in recent polls, was being attacked from his right flank. “You could tell these blows landed and affected him.”

While Bachmann did indeed go too far in asserting that the vaccine is linked to mental retardation, I believe she did put some doubt in the minds of voters as to whether Perry could be trusted given his actions in mandating the vaccine. Bachmann seemed frustrated and eager to be outspoken at the CNN Tea Party debate and she made that clear. I’m not sure whether she ended up bolstering her support or merely knocking Perry down a few pegs.

The winner in the past two weeks has to be Mitt Romney who avoid much of the criticism as it was mostly directed toward Perry. The remaining candidates such as Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman can only hope that the front runners stumble majorly at this point. I also think we’re beginning to see glimpses of Vice Presidential runs from some of the second-tier. I’m thinking Newt Gingrich in particular who has gone out of his way in the past two debates to promote party unity by praising all his opponents on stage.

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Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.

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