From GULF TIMES:
Republican front-runner Rick Perry came under heavy fire on Social Security, jobs and his record in Texas in a heated US presidential debate on Monday as rivals tried to halt the governor’s momentum.
Perry’s rivals questioned his claims about Texas job creation, his stance on illegal immigrants and an executive order he gave as governor, which he admitted was a mistake, that young girls be vaccinated for a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.
Perry played defence numerous times, easing back from his earlier comments on Social Security and the Federal Reserve and deflecting where possible.
He softened his harsh criticism of the Social Security retirement programme and said he wanted to start “a legitimate conversation” about its future. Perry launched the Social Security fight last week when he called the programme a Ponzi scheme and a “monstrous lie.”
“The term Ponzi scheme I think is over the top and unnecessary and frightful to many people,” said [Mitt] Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who pressed Perry on whether he still believed the retirement program should be shifted to the states and ended as a federal programme.
“We’re frightening the American people, who just want solutions,” said Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, adding that Republicans could not win an election by promising to dismantle Social Security. “We’ve got the answers, we don’t have leaders,” he said.
Former US House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich said he was not worried about Romney and Perry frightening seniors “when President Obama scares them every day.”
Perry, a conservative Tea Party favourite, has zoomed past Romney to lead in opinion polls since entering the race last month.
US Representative Michele Bachmann, whose campaign has faded badly in the last month after winning a straw poll in Iowa, targeted Perry over his executive order on the vaccine programme in Texas.
She accused Perry of issuing the order because his former chief of staff was a lobbyist for Merck & Co, the company that made the drug.
Perry said Merck gave him a $5,000 donation. “If you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended,” he said.
Bachmann shot back: “I’m offended for all the little girls and the parents who didn’t have a choice.”
Romney said Perry’s record on job creation in Texas, which has outpaced most other states in adding new jobs, was the result of Perry’s lack of an income tax, natural resources and other factors rather than his policies.
“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,” Romney said.