Authors: Jeanette Torres
(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- In their third debate in as many weeks, the two leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination waged a war of authenticity, challenging each other on their records in government -- even on the words printed in their books.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has seen his lead in national and some early primary state polls evaporate, swiped at front-runner Rick Perry on the issue of Social Security. Romney has been trying to make the case that the Texas governor’s stance on the entitlement program is too extreme.
“There’s a Rick Perry out there that’s saying that -- almost quoted it says that the federal government shouldn’t be in the pension business, that it’s unconstitutional, unconstitutional and to be returned to the states,” Romney said, referencing Perry’s book, Fed Up! “So you better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that.”
Later in Thursday night's debate, showing that he too has been carefully studying Romney’s writings, Perry accused his opponent of changing his tune between printings of his book, No Apologies, on whether the health care plan he signed into law in Massachusetts should be a model for the rest of the country.
“You said that it was exactly what the American people needed to have,” Perry said.
Romney shot back, “I said no such thing.”
“It’s fine for you to retreat from your own words in your own book, but please don’t try and make me retreat from the words that I wrote in my book,” Romney said.
The exchange at the debate in Orlando, sponsored by Fox News and Google, reflected the larger battle between the two campaigns, each trying to jockey for the top spot in the Republican field along with seven other candidates who shared the stage Thursday night, who were just hoping to get some attention and airtime.
Despite some lines he might wish he could take back -- “There are a lot of reasons not to elect me” -- Romney delivered a mostly solid performance displaying his command of issues and even some sharp-edged responses while under attack.
Perry landed some punches on Thursday night, but his performance was uneven at times. He fumbled through an answer to a foreign policy question about what he would do if, as president, he received a middle-of-the-night phone call informing him that a Pakistani nuclear weapon had fallen into the hands of terrorists. The Texas governor also appeared to lose his way while trying to portray Romney as a flip-flopper.
Other candidates had their blunders too. When Michele Bachmann was asked to give a specific answer about how much out of every dollar earned, Americans deserve to keep, she said, “I think you should keep every dollar that you earn.”
A moment later, she added: “Obviously we have to give money back to the government so that we can run the government.”
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