Romney, Perry take political feud to Florida debate

GOP candidates clash over illegals, jobs

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Mr. Perry later in the day played the populist card, calling himself the proud son of tenant farmers and the candidate of modest upbringing.

“I can tell you one thing. I wasn’t born with four aces in my hand,” Mr. Perry told the crowd, delivering a message that appears to be part of his campaign’s push to shine a light on Mr. Romney’s upbringing as a wealthy business scion. Mr. Romney’s father, George W. Romney, was chairman of American Motors Corp. and served as Michigan governor and in President Nixon’s Cabinet.

“We weren’t wealthy in material things, but we sure rich in a lot of other things. We were rich in spirit. We were rich in values,” Mr. Perry said of his family.

The comments also served as belated comeback to Mr. Romney’s suggestion that the strong job-growth numbers in Texas under Mr. Perry are the results of factors that for the most part are outside of Mr. Perry’s control; namely, a booming energy sector as well as the state’s lengthy history of low taxation and low regulation.

“If you’re dealt four aces, that doesn’t make you necessarily a great poker player,” Mr. Romney said.

The other candidates, meanwhile, hoped to make a splash and dislodge the “Perry vs. Romney” narrative that is driving national headlines. Recent history shows they have some reason for optimism.

In September 2007, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee were running ahead of Sen. John McCain of Arizona in the Republican nomination race, according to a average of national polls.

The field shrank by one Thursday after Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter of Michigan dropped out of the race and endorsed Mr. Romney.

With that as a backdrop, the field used the Faith and Freedom rally at the Rosen Centre Hotel as a warm-up for the presidential debate. Mrs. Bachmann cast herself as a fighter and urged the Faith and Freedom crowd not to settle for a candidate who simply plays lip service to social conservatives.

“We need to have a candidate who is a true social conservative, who will stand for our issues,” she said.

Mr. Paul burnished his pro-life credentials, saying that all life must be protected. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that he would sign executive orders eliminating all the administration’s “czar” positions and move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Businessman Herman Cain said he would throw out the entire tax code and replace it with an across-the-board 9 percent tax of business, personal income and all sales. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said he was the “authentic” social conservative in the race.

The Romney camp started the tit-for-tat with Mr. Perry this week by issuing a press release that posed a handful of questions for Mr. Perry to answer regarding how Social Security would be transformed into a state-by-state program.

“Would states be free to forgo a pension program altogether?” the campaign asked. “If so, what if any provision would be made for the disabled and elderly in that state? Or would they be expected to move to other states with more generous benefits, inevitably overwhelming those systems?”

The Perry camp responded, saying that “Mr. Romney is again sounding like a Democrat, distorting the truth and trying to scare senior citizens.”

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