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US_NEWS_CAMPAIGN-DEBATE_1_LA.jpgSIMI VALLEY -- As the Republican presidential candidates debate tonight in Simi Valley, focus at the Reagan Presidential Library is squarely on Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the surging newcomer who is debating his GOP rivals for the first time.

Perry surpassed the presumed front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, in the latest Gallup poll, with Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann trailing.

The debate will be streamed live on

Perry traveled to the event despite wildfires in Texas. It is his first debate in his first national campaign.

Bachmann, who won the Republican straw poll in Iowa last month, hardly came up in a pre-debate panel of pollsters and political editors here.

The debate will be "Rick Perry vs. Mitt Romney with six innocent bystanders trying to get noticed," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

Here's how he put it to Capitol Alert:

PHOTO CAPTION: Texas Gov. Rick Perry arrives at the Reagan Presidential Library for the Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley.

PHOTO CREDIT: Lawrence K. Ho/ Los Angeles Times/ MCT


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