Republican Perry comes out swinging at debate

SIMI VALLEY, Calif.,  (Reuters) – Texas Governor Rick  Perry came out swinging in his national debut yesterday, all  but calling President Barack Obama a liar, describing Social  Security as a fraud and attacking his main Republican rival in  the presidential race.

Rick Perry

Perry, a conservative Tea Party favorite and the Republican  front-runner, traded barbs with closest competitor Mitt Romney  over who has created more jobs.

Their testy exchange in Perry’s first presidential debate  was proof that the fight to determine the 2012 Republican  challenger to Democrat Obama is becoming a two-man contest.

The Republicans battled with each other to promote their  records on jobs, a day before Obama makes a crucial speech to  Congress on his plan to bring down the 9.1 percent jobless  rate.

Perry, who entered the race only a month ago and has  leapfrogged over Romney in Republican polls, was full of  confidence but may be forced to defend some blunt comments.

Using harsh language, he said Obama is an “abject liar” if  he believes the U.S. border with Mexico is stronger.

And Perry declared Social Security a “Ponzi scheme,” the  kind of comment that Democrats can seize on as proof that the  Texas governor would try to dismantle the popular  government-run retirement program.

“Anybody that’s for the status quo with Social Security  today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and it’s  not right,” said Perry.

It was up to former Massachusetts Governor Romney to defend  the popular entitlement program for seniors and allow him to  appeal to independent voters who may well decide the 2012  election.

“You can’t say that to tens of millions of Americans who  live on Social Security and those who have lived on it,” Romney  said.

The Perry-Romney fireworks largely overshadowed the six  other candidates in the debate, reducing almost to spectators  Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, seen as the  third-placed contender, and the gaggle of other longshot  candidates.

TWO-MAN RACE    

The debate at the Ronald Reagan presidential library, a  shrine to the Republican president, was the first in a series  in the next six weeks likely to help define the Republican race  with early voting states to begin choosing early next year.

“Basically this is another affirmation that the race has  become a two-man contest,” said Matthew Dowd, a former campaign  strategist for President George W. Bush. “Perry met the  threshold and Romney stays in.”

Of Bachmann, Dowd said: “she disappeared off the podium.”

The event, sponsored by NBC News and Politico, was only  minutes old when Perry charged Romney with having one of the  worst records creating jobs in Massachusetts in history.

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