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Perry, Romney Go Toe-to-Toe in GOP Debate

By Scott Conroy - September 8, 2011

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After being mostly a non-factor in the previous Republican debate in Iowa, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was more aggressive this time around, calling out both Perry and Romney by name in making the case that his gubernatorial record was the best of the three on job creation.

“I hate to rain on the parade of the great Lone Star governor,” Huntsman said. “As governor of Utah, we were the number one jobs creator in this country during my five years of service. That was 5.9 percent when you were creating jobs at 4.9 percent. And to my good friend, Mitt, 47th just ain’t gonna cut it, my friend. Not when you can be first.”

As Rick Santorum and Ron Paul made various plays to insert themselves into the conversation, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich received big applause several times from the audience, particularly when he turned hostile toward the debate’s moderators, as he did during the previous debate, which was hosted by Fox News. This time, Gingrich accused the MSNBC and Politico hosts of trying to pit the Republican candidates against one another.

As she has faded in the polls following her victory in last month’s Ames Straw Poll, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann also struggled for attention as Perry and Romney went head to head. Bachmann did challenge Perry when asked about his controversial 2007 executive order requiring that young girls in Texas be vaccinated against HPV -- a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer.

“What I’m very concerned about is the issue of parental rights,” Bachmann said. “I think when it comes to dealing with children, it’s the parents who need to make that decision. It is wrong for government, whether it is state or federal government, to impose on parents what they must do to inoculate their children.”

When the debate turned back to Perry vs. Romney, the former doubled down on his Tea Party-infused rhetoric, while the latter appeared to present himself as the superior general election candidate.

Asked about the suggestion in his book “Fed Up” that Social Security had been a wrongheaded program from the beginning, Perry refused to back away.

“It is a monstrous lie,” he said. “It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’ve paid into a program that’s going to be there.”

Despite Perry’s insistence that the creation of the program should not be relitigated 75 years later, Romney was quick to pounce.

“The issue in the book ‘Fed Up,’ Governor, as you say that by any measure, Social Security is a failure -- you can’t say that to tens of millions of Americans who live on Social Security and those who have lived on it,” Romney responded. “Our nominee has to be someone who isn’t committed to abolishing Social Security but is committed to saving Social Security. We’ve always had at the heart of our party a recognition that we want to care for those in need, and our seniors have the need of Social Security.”

The Republican presidential candidates will share a stage twice more this month with upcoming debates scheduled in Tampa and Orlando, Fla.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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