Romney, Perry take political feud to Florida debate

GOP candidates clash over illegals, jobs

Mitt Romney talks to a supporter after a town-hall meeting in Miami on Wednesday. He discussed his plans to improve the economy and create jobs. (Associated Press)Mitt Romney talks to a supporter after a town-hall meeting in Miami on Wednesday. He discussed his plans to improve the economy and create jobs. (Associated Press)
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Rick Perry and Mitt Romney played a rhetorical badminton game in the debate here Thursday, with the two Republican presidential front-runners trading barbs over Social Security, illegal immigration and jobs.

Mr. Romney served up the opening salvo, questioning whether the Texas governor has walked away from previous statements in which he suggested Social Security is unconstitutional and should be returned to the states.

“There’s a Rick Perry out there that’s saying that it — almost to quote, it says that the federal government shouldn’t be in the pension business, that it’s unconstitutional, and it should be returned to the states,” Mr. Romney said. “So you’d better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that.”

Mr. Perry responded by suggesting that Mr. Romney has waffled when it comes to the universal health care law he signed into law in 2006 as governor of Massachusetts.

Republican presidential hopefuls acknowledge the audience Sept. 22 in Orlando, Fla., before a debate. They are (from left) former New Mexico Gov. Gary E. Johnson, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, businessman Herman Cain and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (Associated Press)

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Republican presidential hopefuls acknowledge the audience Sept. 22 in Orlando, Fla., before ... more >

“As a matter of fact, between books, your hard-copy book, you said that it was exactly what the American people needed to have — that’s ‘Romneycare’ — given to them as you had in Massachusetts,” Mr. Perry said. “Then in your paperback, you took that line out.”

Mr. Romney responded, “I actually wrote my book, and in my book I said no such thing.”

The two men also knocked heads over Mr. Perry’s decision to support in-state tuition for some children of illegal immigrants.

Mr. Romney said that the legislation carried a $100,000 price tag for Texas taxpayers and a “magnet” for illegal immigrants. Mr. Perry, however, refused to back off his support of the program, saying that anyone who doesn’t support it, “I don’t think you have a heart.”

“We need to be educating these people because they will become a drag on the society,” he said. “This was a state issue, Texas voted on it, and I still support it greatly.”

The Perry-Romney rumbles have turned into a traveling roadshow in recent weeks — with the Republicans standing side by side on debate stages and duking it out there and elsewhere on the campaign trail.

The feud has heated up as national polls have started to solidify, showing Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney running well ahead of the rest of the field, including Reps. Ron Paul of Texas and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

The Perry-Romney feud, which dominated the first segment of Thursday’s debate was a continuation of the day’s campaigning in this key swing state, with Mr. Romney telling the thousands gathered in a large ballroom for a Faith and Freedom Coalition rally that his background as “a conservative businessman” separates him from President Obama and his GOP rivals.

“There are plenty of people running for president who are politicians, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said, in what has become a go-to refrain for the former Massachusetts governor since Mr. Perry entered the race with a resume that includes more than 25 years in government.

“But to beat Barack Obama and to get America back on track to creating jobs and having a strong, stable foundation that will rebuild our economy, I think it helps to have someone who had a job to create jobs for the American people,” he said.

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