Perry Draws Fire From All Sides at GOP Debate

Perry Draws Fire From All Sides at GOP Debate

By Erin McPike - September 13, 2011

TAMPA, Florida -- Rick Perry went from Mitt Romney's sparring partner to the target of all his GOP presidential competitors in just five days.

In his second debate performance since declaring for president one month ago, the Texas governor took a series of shots from every candidate on stage Monday night at the Florida state fairgrounds here. The attacks came for his stewardship of the Texas economy to his comments about the future of Social Security to his push for an HPV vaccine for young females in his state. And for Perry, the newly minted front-runner in the Republican presidential primary, it might hurt a bit.

CNN sponsored the two-hour debate together with the Tea Party Express, whose activists filled the audience. And at times, that crowd booed Perry, who has long been a favorite of the Tea Party.

Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, the most socially conservative candidates in the field, pounced on Perry repeatedly and took issue specifically with the executive order he issued requiring 12-year-old girls to be vaccinated against the cancer-causing human papilloma virus.

“To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just wrong,” Bachmann said. And she dug into the issue in a volley with Perry, accusing him of trading favors because one of his campaign donors was a lobbyist for the drug Perry pushed.

The donor was his onetime chief of staff Mike Toomey, who later worked for Merck, which produces the vaccine. Perry’s response was that Toomey donated just $5,000 to his campaign, adding, “I raised $30 million and if you’re saying I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.”

Santorum went after the three-term governor further on the issue. He complained that Perry’s defense that he pursued the right policy but in the wrong way -- the executive order was not the proper approach, Perry admitted -- was not enough. The former Pennsylvania senator said that rather than offer a parental opt-out clause, the program should have been set up to allow parents to opt in.

The exchange landed the two more marginal candidates some cheers -- and Perry some boos, as did some of his comments on immigration reform.

“If you can't win this crowd, you can't win any crowd,” former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, a senior adviser to Romney’s campaign, said after the debate.

Romney’s advisers uniformly cheered the outcome, telling reporters that Perry left in worse shape than he started. They suggested he seems less electable and less conservative after his performance.

Perry doubled down on his belief that a border fence is not the answer to illegal immigration. He reminded the audience that he’s the only candidate who is a border governor, with extensive knowledge of the issue, and he said that securing the border should be done with manpower.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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