September promises to be a busy month in U.S. presidential politics. The Republican presidential contenders take part in the first of three debates on Wednesday, while President Barack Obama delivers a major speech on the economy and jobs Thursday before a joint session of Congress.
The latest public-opinion polls show Texas Governor Rick Perry has vaulted into the lead in the Republican presidential field over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and several other contenders.
Wednesday's debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California will be Governor Perry's first as a presidential candidate and his performance will be closely watched by voters, political rivals, and experts.
Perry has wasted little time in going after Romney as his main rival, including this comment about job creation at a campaign event in South Carolina.
"There is one in particular who has created jobs all over the world. But while he was governor of Massachusetts he did not create very many jobs," said Perry.
The economy and jobs are also the top issues for Romney, who continues to focus his campaign in the early primary state of New Hampshire.
"Last month you saw zero jobs created," said Romney. "The American people have zero confidence in a president that creates zero jobs."
Political analyst Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute expects Romney will try to regain some momentum in the upcoming Republican debates.
"He [Romney] is going to come out swinging hard against Rick Perry," said Ornstein. "He needs to define Perry before Perry can fully define himself."
Romney had been leading the Republican field for months, but with Perry's entrance he now has a fight on his hands, says American University historian Allan Lichtman.
"But now he has got a real heavyweight entering the ring and certainly Perry comes out, I think, at this point equal and maybe even has a slight edge over Romney," noted Lichtman.
Six other contenders will take part in the Wednesday debate, including Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
It is expected that the Republican contenders will focus their rhetorical fire on President Barack Obama and his economic record during the upcoming debates.
The president, meanwhile, is preparing for a major speech on the economy and jobs Thursday before a divided U.S. Congress.
President Obama rallied union workers in Detroit on Labor Day.
"There is work to be done and workers ready to do it," said Obama. "Labor is on board. Business is on board. We just need Congress to get on board."
The speech comes at a critical time in Obama's presidency. New polls show his public-approval ratings are at an all-time low and three-quarters of those asked say the country is headed in the wrong direction.
On the other hand, polls show Americans still like Obama personally, and they still give him a slight advantage in head-to-head matchups with Republican presidential contenders Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.