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

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

By Scott Conroy - September 8, 2011

From the moment that Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate kicked off at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, it was the Rick Perry and Mitt Romney Show, as the two GOP front-runners for the nomination sharpened their attacks against one other for the first time in person.

Each of the other six candidates vying to take on President Obama next November struggled to get noticed, as the  moderators grilled the Texas governor and former Massachusetts governor on their records and set each of them up to contrast himself against his chief rival.

Appearing in his first debate as a White House hopeful, Perry came out swinging against Romney on the topic of jobs, which has been the most pressing issue on the campaign trail as the national unemployment rate hovers above 9 percent.

“He did a great job of creating jobs in the private sector all around the world, but the fact is, when he moved that experience to government, he had one of the lowest job creation rates in the country,” Perry said of Romney. “As a matter of fact, we created more jobs in the last three months in Texas than he created in four years in Massachusetts.”

When moderator Brian Williams attempted to bring former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain into the discussion, Romney interjected with a “wait a second,” and Williams allowed the back-and-forth duel with Perry over jobs to escalate in rapid succession.

“States are different,” Romney said. “Texas is a great state. Texas has zero income tax. Texas has a right-to-work state, a Republican legislature, a Republican Supreme Court. Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground. Those are wonderful things, but Governor Perry doesn’t believe that he created those things. If he tried to say that, why, it’d be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet.”

Romney’s mention of the former vice president seemed a clear effort to associate Perry with the Democrat, whose 1988 presidential campaign the Texan endorsed.

Not to be outdone, Perry quickly retorted with his own effort to juxtapose Romney with a Democrat whose very name remains anathema to much of the Republican primary electorate.

“Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt,” Perry said.

Romney then replied, “Well, as a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor.”

When Perry’s “that’s not correct” and Romney’s “yeah, it is correct” failed to settle the issue, Williams jumped back in and declared, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, “Nice to see that everybody came prepared for tonight’s conversation.”

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

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