Perry, Romney Renew Feud At Florida Debate
Orlando (CNN) -- The perils of being the Republican frontrunner came into sharp focus for Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday at a debate in Florida, with his rivals aggressively seeking to poke holes in his record and dislodge him from the top of the polls.
Perry repeatedly found himself on his heels as his foes pressed him on issues including Social Security, immigration, border security and his 2007 executive order mandating that middle-school girls be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted HPV virus that can cause cervical cancer.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said Perry supported the vaccine as a political favor to a pharmaceutical company, Merck, that donated to his campaigns.
Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, meanwhile, took aim at a 2001 law signed by Perry that gave higher education tuition breaks to the children of illegal immigrants. He accused Perry of giving "preferential treatment" to illegal immigrants.
Perry, who has spent a more than a decade supervising Mexico's longest border with the United States, hit back hard and questioned whether Santorum had even been to the border before.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took the most forceful tack, repeatedly questioning Perry's commitment to protecting Social Security in a state with nearly 4 million citizens who depend on the entitlement program.
Perry rebuffed Romney's accusation that he wants to eliminate Social Security at the federal level and let the entitlement program be managed by the states.
"It's not the first time that Mitt has been wrong on some issues so far," Perry said. "The bottom line is, we never said we would move that back to the states."
Perry swore a "solemn oath" to protect the program and said states, as a cost-saving measure, should allow Social Security recipients to opt out of the program if they choose.
Romney claimed that his chief rival for the nomination is running away from a passage in his book "Fed Up!" that suggested Social Security is unconstitutional.
"It's different than what the governor put in his book just six months ago," Romney said, claiming that Perry is backing away from his record. "So you better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that."
Perry responded by calling Romney's 2006 health care reform legislation a blueprint for President Barack Obama's 2009 reform law.
Reprising what became a line of familiar attack against Romney during his failed 2008 White House bid, Perry cast Romney as a flip-flopper and said he has changed his positions on the Second Amendment and abortion rights.
"I think Americans just don't know sometimes which Mitt Romney they are dealing with," Perry said.
Romney, Perry, Bachmann and Santorum were joined onstage at the debate by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and businessman Herman Cain.
The debate was sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida, Fox News and Google. >>>CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM CNN
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