Frontrunners Romney and Perry dominated the conversation.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s rapid rise to the head of the Republican presidential pack has come at a price. He was the prime target during Monday’s debate co-hosted by the Tea Party and CNN in Tampa, Florida, where he was forced to defend his views on Social Security and efforts to require girls aged 12 and older to be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus that is linked to cervical cancer, and allowing children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public universities in Texas.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has fallen in the polls since Perry entered the presidential contest, slammed him on the vaccination issue, which he attempted to push through an executive order, which he now believes was a mistake. Bachmann also suggested that Merck, the company that makes the vaccination and for whom a former Perry staffer worked as a lobbyist, had made enormous profits from his order and significant campaign contributions to the Texas lawmaker. Perry maintained he’d received just $5,000 from the pharmaceutical giant, although it was closer to $30,000, and remarked that he was offended by the suggestion that he could be “bought for $5,000.”
“I'm offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice,” retorted Bachmann to cheers and applause from the audience. “That's what I'm offended for.”
Mitt Romney, once the presumptive frontrunner, also now trails behind Perry, hammered his rival for first place on Social Security, which Perry has called a Ponizi scheme, questioned its constitutionality and said that he would allow states to drop out of the program to set up their own. As he tried to say he wants to have a conversation with the voters on the issue, Romney interrupted him.
“We're having that right now, governor. We're running for president,” he said.
Almost all of the candidates attacked Perry on immigration, particularly the in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, but he stood firm on the issue.
“In the state of Texas, if you've been in the state of Texas for three years, if you're working towards your, your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there,” he said, eliciting boos from the audience. “And the bottom line is it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way — no matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint if your parents brought you there or what have you.”
(Photo: Darren McCollester/Getty Images)