On the eve of Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney shopped for votes in a quaint country store and cast himself as a champion of the middle class. Jon Huntsman Jr. released his foreign policy agenda. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum journeyed from town to town searching for some spark to ignite their struggling campaigns.

But the candidate with perhaps the most at stake in the Washington Post-Bloomberg News debate at Dartmouth College was nowhere to be found. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was holed up somewhere — studying, rehearsing and hoping for a performance to breathe new life into a campaign beset by a series of unsteady debate performances in September.