Governor Rick Perry started the week with another poll showing him at the head of the crowded GOP Presidential pack. But staying there may be harder than he expected.
Monday’s debate in Tampa, Florida could have been tailor-made for Governor Perry. He was appearing in front of a crowd of Tea Party supporters, voters who’s views he’s shared since he first spoke to them at tax day rally in Austin in 2009.
A CNN poll showing they overwhelmingly back Rick Perry over the rest of the GOP field. But instead, he spent the night in Mitt Romney’s cross-hairs. The former Massachusetts governor zeroed in on Perry’s record on immigration, a topic where Rick Perry and the Tea Party are at odds.
“Of course we build a fence. And of course we do not give in state tuition credits to people who’ve come here illegally,” Perry said.
Romney also hit Perry on Social Security, where the governor and Florida’s older voters part ways.
“Do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program as you did 6-months ago when your book came out and returned to the states? Or do you want to retreat from that?” Romney asked Governor Perry.
“I think we ought to have a conversation,” Perry began to say.
“That’s what we’re having governor. You’re running for President,” Romney interrupted.
It was somewhat unfamiliar territory for the Texas governor, who’s led almost wire-to-wire in each of his gubernatorial elections, and was able to deflect just about every punch thrown at him.
Monday night, he had to defend his record. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann appeared to score a direct hit with the audience, when she criticized his 2007 order to have pre-teen girls in Texas vaccinated against HPV.
“The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor and this is just flat out wrong,” Bachmann said.
“The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. If you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended,” Perry replied.
“Well I’m offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn’t have a choice. That’s who I’m offended for,” Bachmann said.
But the night may have belonged to Mitt Romney, who seemed to have regained his ease at the podium and was determined to make Social Security Perry’s Achilles heel.
“Somebody observed about Rick Perry that he came in with a Social Security problem. And he left with a conservative problem,” Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said.
Rick Perry could find the crowd at his next public appearance more supportive of his views on Social Security. He’s playing to a much younger crowd Wednesday, speaking to students at the country’s largest evangelical college, Liberty University.