“We’re having that right now, Governor. We’re running for president,” Romney said.
Perry said that Romney, in his book, had said that the Social Security system’s financing would be criminal if it had been done in the private sector. Romney took issue with that. “You said it’s criminal,” he responded. “What I said was Congress taking money out of the Social Security trust fund is like criminal and that is and it’s wrong.”
The exchange over Social Security went to the heart of one of the important arguments between the two candidates, with Romney trying to make the case that what Perry has said and particularly what he has written could disqualify him in a general election. But it wasn’t clear, given the audience’s reaction, whether Perry is on such shaky ground on the issue.
The two also had a sharp exchange about the economy, as Romney tried to chip away at Perry’s assertion that he has had a far superior record at creating jobs. He said Perry was fortunate to be governing in a state that has no state income tax, a Republican legislature, a right-to-work law, and oil and gas resources.
“I think Governor Perry would agree with me that if you’re dealt four aces, that doesn’t make you necessarily a great poker player,” he said.
“Mitt, you were doing pretty good until you got to talking poker,” Perry responded. “But the fact is the state of Texas has led the nation.”
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) tried to trump them both. He said that while he was speaker, he and the policies of Congress did more for the state economies than anything the governors had done.
“In the four years I was speaker, we created — the American people, not me — created more jobs in Utah than under Governor Huntsman, more jobs in Massachusetts than under Governor Romney and more jobs in Texas than in the 11 years of Governor Perry,” he said.
The most heated exchange came when Bachmann and Santorum took on Perry over his support of a cervical cancer vaccine for 11- and 12-year-old girls.
Perry said that he made a mistake by issuing the executive order, which allowed parents to opt out. “If I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently.”
He said he should have worked with the state legislature. “But what was driving me was, obviously, making a difference about young people’s lives,” he said. “Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die. And I happen to think that what we were trying to do was to clearly send a message that we’re going to give moms and dads the opportunity to make that decision, with parental opt-out.”
Bachmann, who consistently received applause from the tea party crowd, hammered Perry on the issue, saying it was an example of government overreach, and also suggested he was cozy with a pharmaceutical company that had contributed money to his campaign.