Mitt Romney thinks he has found a winning issue — Social Security — and his objective in Monday night’s debate in Florida is to drive that message home with Republican primary voters.

Romney believes the way to beat Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has overtaken him as the front-runner in the national polls, is to successfully make the case that Perry’s views are so extreme that they render him unelectable in a general election against President Obama.

Central to Romney’s argument is Social Security, the federal retirement program that for generations of politicians has been sacrosanct but that Perry has labeled a failure. In last week’s NBC News-Politico debate, Perry said Social Security was financially unsustainable and called it “a Ponzi scheme” and “a monstrous lie to our children.”

You can expect Perry to field several questions about Social Security — and you can expect Romney, and perhaps other candidates, to attack Perry over his views.

“I want to save Social Security,” Romney said last week on Sean Hannity’s radio show. “It is an essential safety net for the American people. And number two, it is terrible politics. If we nominate someone who the Democrats could correctly characterize as being against Social Security, we will be obliterated as a party.”

In addition to drawing the contrast with Perry, Romney will try to avoid being drawn into a lengthy back-and-forth over parts of his own record, namely instances during his career at Bain Capital where companies were restructured by laying off workers, as well as the health-care overhaul he championed and signed into law when he was governor of Massachusetts.

On the latter point, Romney has a new validator he can tout. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who coined the term “Obamaney care” when he attacked Romney’s health-care plan as a precursor to Obama’s federal overhaul, endorsed Romney earlier Monday.

“Mitt Romney is 100 percent dedicated and committed to repealing Obamacare,” Pawlenty said Monday on “Fox & Friends.” “I know and trust that that’s what he’ll do.”

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