- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Mitt Romney and Rick Perry wasted little time in going straight at each other Wednesday night, sparring over whether the former’s business experience or the latter’s decade as governor of Texas is better training for boosting jobs as the occupant of the White House.

“Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt,” said Mr. Perry, referring to the former liberal Democratic governor who lost the 1988 presidential election.

“George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, governor,” retorted Mr. Romney, a one-term Massachusetts governor who made his fortune leading a capital investment firm, as he pointed to the man whom Mr. Perry succeeded in 2000.

With the Republican presidential nomination on the line, the GOP field squared off at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in a nationally televised debate in which the candidates clawed at each other on their records and rhetoric amassed over years of government service.

But the moderators repeatedly brought the fight back to Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney, the two front-runners in the national polls.

Mr. Perry took fire over his state’s low rankings on education, Texas’s record-breaking pace of executions of criminals, and his move as governor to try to have all 12-year-old girls in his state inoculated against a sexually transmitted disease — something he acknowledged he would have done differently now.

Meanwhile, Mr. Romney was blasted for his decision as governor to sign a health care law that includes an individual mandate that every resident of his state purchase health care or face a fine.

“It was a great opportunity for us as a people to see what will not work, and that is an individual mandate in this country,” said Mr. Perry, while businessman Herman Cain said he had opposed former first lady Hillary Clinton’s 1990s health care plan, President Obama’s 2010 plan and “now I’m running against Romneycare.”

Mr. Romney said what worked in his state won’t work everywhere, and said one of his first acts as president would be to have his administration issue waivers to every state.

“I understand health care pretty darn well, having been through what I went through as a governor. And one thing I’d do on day one if I’m elected president is direct my secretary of Health and Human Services to put an executive order granting a waiver from Obamacare to all 50 states,” he said.

As much as the candidates sparred among themselves, they saved their harshest criticism for Mr. Obama.

“Obamacare took over one-sixth of the economy,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican. “This is the issue of 2012, together with jobs. This is our window of opportunity. If we fail to repeal Obamacare in 2012, it will be with us forever, and it will be socialized medicine.”

For Mr. Perry, the debate was his first chance personally to mix things up with his fellow candidates, and to show Republican voters that he deserves the early adulation he’s received from many of them.

He seemed to stumble over a couple of answers when asked to square his past rhetoric with his stances as a presidential candidate, but had his strongest moments when he was defending his state’s specific record during his decade as governor.

He also didn’t back down on his criticism of Social Security as a Ponzi scheme, and said that applied despite former Vice President Dick Cheney, who earlier Wednesday had suggested such language was over the top.

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