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GOP Presidential Candidates Debate In Tampa

Photo Credit: KUT News

By Ben Philpott, KUT Radio

Dallas, TX –

Governor Rick Perry started the week with another poll showing him at the head of the crowded GOP Presidential pack. KUT Radio's Ben Philpott reports staying there may be harder than he expected.

Monday's debate in Tampa Florida could have been tailor-made for Governor Rick Perry. He was appearing in front of a crowd of Tea Party supporters - voters whose views he's shared since he first spoke to them at tax day rally in 2009. And there was a new CNN poll showing they overwhelmingly back Rick Perry over the rest of the GOP field. 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 Perry and the Tea Party are at odds.

Mitt Romney: Of course we build a fence. And of course we do not give in state tuition credits to people who've come here illegally.

And Social Security, where governor Perry and Florida's older voters part ways.

Mitt Romney: 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 thestates? Or do you want to retreat from that?

Rick Perry: I think we ought tohave a conversation.

Mitt Romney: That's what we're having governor. You're running for President.

Rick Perry: And if you'll let me, I'll finish this conversation."

It was somewhat unfamiliar territory for the Texas governor, who has 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. As he did again when 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.

Michele Bachmann: The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor and this is just flat out wrong.

Rick Perry: 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.

Michele Bachmann: 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."

But the night may have belonged to Mitt Romney, who seemed to have regained his ease at the podium. And determined to make Social Security Perry's Achilles heel. Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.

Eric Fehrnstrom: Somebody observed about Rick Perry that he came in with a Social Security problem. And he left with a conservative problem.

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. He's speaking to students at the country's largest evangelical college, Liberty University.

Reporting from Tampa, Florida, Ben Philpott, KUT News.