The sparks flew during last night’s Republican presidential debate, with Texas Governor Rick Perry taking the lion’s share of the blows. He handled himself well, with applause-generating punch lines and counter-attacks, but criticism of his record as a conservative will make the race more competitive in the weeks ahead.
Governor Perry was under fire from almost every other candidate, as Mitt Romney went after his record on the economy and Social Security, and the others targeted him on immigration and his ordering that schoolgirls get an HPV vaccination. His biggest applause line came in his opening, when he pledged to “make Washington D.C. as inconsequential in your life as possible.” His statement that “People are tired of spending money we don’t have on programs we don’t want” was also well received.
Perry was loudly booed when he defended his decision to grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. He was also left nearly speechless after a series of blistering attacks by Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum on the vaccination issue. Perry tried to preempt the forthcoming criticisms by praising parental rights and noting that he allowed parents to opt their children out of the vaccinations, but it failed to stop the barrage of punches thrown his way.
Mitt Romney had an excellent night as Perry received almost all of the negative attention. He had numerous applauses, such as when he suggested that President Obama was failing to modernize the economy. He struck Perry for calling social security a “Ponzi scheme,” using it to highlight questions about his electability. He also contrasted their records on job growth by pointing out how Perry’s two predecessors had higher rates. Compared to previous debates, criticism of Romney’s health care plan was gentle this time. His only mistake was rudely interrupting Perry during their exchange on social security, a tactical error that will be forgotten.
Right out of the gate, Michele Bachmann showed the fire that she lost during the last debate. She received huge applause in her opening when she described how she fought on behalf of the Tea Party, and won a bigger applause when she said it was a mistake for the House Republicans to agree to raise the debt ceiling. Claps were heard when she clashed with Perry, but her questioning of his integrity may backfire. She pointed out that his chief of staff was tied to the drug company that profited from the HPV vaccinations he ordered in public schools, and that the company donated to his campaign. “If you say I can be bought for $5,000, I am offended,” Perry replied. She responded that she was offended by his vaccine mandate.
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