Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Analysis: GOP foes seek cracks in Perry's record

Rick Perry's bid for the Republican presidential nomination will rise or fall on his 10-year record as Texas governor.
In Monday's crackling GOP debate, his rivals attacked that record as never before, led by a newly energized Mitt Romney and hard-charging Michele Bachmann.
Perry, holding his own but looking besieged at times, defended himself vigorously on most fronts. He acknowledged mishandling a schoolgirl vaccination program, however, and asked for understanding about Texas' need to work with illegal immigrants who seek citizenship and college educations.
As President Barack Obama might say: Welcome to the role of an incumbent with a complex record to defend from critics on all sides.
The spirited exchanges showed that the top Republican candidates differ not merely in style but on key issues such as immigration, health policy and Social Security. For now, at least, Perry is the front-runner the others are hoping to catch.
Romney, the former one-term Massachusetts governor running second in recent GOP polls, tried to blunt Perry's strongest point — his Texas jobs record — while exploiting what might be Perry's most troublesome issue, Social Security.
The deeply conservative Tampa audience seemed to shift to and from Perry's side during the two-hour forum, sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express.
On Social Security, Romney said, it wasn't so bad that Perry has called the program "a Ponzi scheme." The bigger problem, he said, is Perry's writings that suggest Social Security is unconstitutional.
"Does Gov. Perry continue to believe that Social Security should not be a federal program, that it's unconstitutional and it should be returned to the states?" Romney said.
The federal government made mistakes when Social Security was created decades ago, Perry said. However, he said, "obviously we're not going to take that program away" now that retirees have counted on it for 70 years.
Each man accused the other of trying to frighten older Americans. Perry noted that Social Security's long-term finances face problems, and asked, "Are there ways to move the states into Social Security for state employees or for retirees?"
As for Perry's boast that Texas added more than a million jobs during his time in office, Romney suggested the governor was mostly lucky.
"If you're dealt four aces, that doesn't make you necessarily a great poker player," Romney said. He actually named five: Texas's "zero income tax, low regulation, right-to-work state (status), oil in the ground and a Republican legislature."
Perry essentially laughed off the suggestion that it's easy to create a million jobs even with those advantages. He cited his efforts to reduce litigation, regulation and other perceived impediments to job creation that other states endure.
The debate turned more emotional, and more problematic for Perry, on illegal immigration and child vaccinations.
Perry again said he should have consulted the state legislature before ordering all Texas pre-teen girls to be vaccinated against a virus that can cause cervical cancer, unless their parents refused. "I am always going to err on the side of life," he said.
Bachmann, a tea party favorite who has fallen back in recent polls, swung in forcefully.
"Is it about life or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company" whose lobbyist was a former top Perry aide, she asked.
Perry said the drug maker, Merck, gave his campaign $5,000 of the roughly $30 million he raised.
"If you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended," Perry said.
The Minnesota congresswoman shot back, "Well, I'm offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice."More...

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