The night signaled not only the beginning of a more antagonistic phase of the campaign, but also that, despite volatility in opinion polls, Perry and Romney each consider the other his most formidable opponent.
“Both of them at one time or another have been the front-runner, they’re the ones that most people think will go the distance, and it’s going to get heated,” said David Wilkins, a Perry supporter and former South Carolina House speaker. “They are both competitive individuals, and so it’s not surprising that they would go after each other.”
Governors Mitt Romney and Rick Perry got into a heated debate over illegal immigration at the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Tuesday night.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Saturday denounced "poisonous language" against faiths. His rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, steered well clear of that simmering issue and discussed "big government." (Oct. 8)
Donna Sytek, a former New Hampshire House speaker who is backing Romney, said the clash “was inevitable.” But she said that because Perry’s attacks on Romney were over issues thoroughly vetted during Romney’s 2008 campaign, she does not think they will sway many primary voters.
“It’s nothing new,” Sytek said. “All his warts were already exposed.”
Perry signaled Wednesday that he will try to show that he can do more than bicker with Romney, offering up the outline of a plan to rehabilitate the economy that he said would include spending cuts, entitlement reforms and a flat tax.
As he addressed the Western Republican Leadership Conference, Perry managed to get in a few digs at Romney. “You won’t hear a lot of shape-shifting nuance from me,” he vowed. “I’m going to give the American people a big, heaping helping of unbridled truth.”
Meanwhile, Perry’s campaign advisers promised more attacks.
“We have and will continue to work to expose the fact that beneath the slick exterior is someone who changes positions with the wind, who has no philosophical core and who has a record that is not conservative,” Perry communications director Ray Sullivan said.
The Romney team says it is prepared.
“This is not a minuet,” said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire-based senior adviser to Romney. “This is not some elegant form of ballroom dancing. This is a contact sport. . . . At some point, there’s going to be more back-and-forth in this race, and we would be naive if we didn’t expect it to happen.”
Tumulty reported from Las Vegas.