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GOP Presidential Candidates Debate In Tampa, Florida

By Ben Philpott, KUT Radio

Dallas, TX –

Texas Governor Rick Perry came out on the offensive in last night's GOP debate in Orlando, attempting to rebound from a shaky debate performance last week. He remained the top target of his fellow presidential hopefuls, but KUT's Ben Philpott reports Perry seemed more prepared for the criticism.

Governor Perry delivered his strongest defenses to date for two topics that have been nagging him on the campaign trail. When his main GOP opponent, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, labeled Perry soft on immigration, he talked about the millions he's spent on border security - and held firm to his support of a Texas law that provides in-state tuition for some children of illegal immigrants.

Rick Perry: If you say that we should not education children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart.

The governor was also ready when Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann said lobbyists and their money were the reason he attempted to mandate a cervical cancer vaccine for young girls.

Rick Perry: I got lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31-year-old young lady who had stage 4 cervical cancer. I spent a lot of time with her. She came by my office. She talked with me about this program.

But last night he appeared to falter when talking about his campaign theme of getting America working again. Especially when FOX News anchor Bret Baier asked just how he would create jobs.

Bret Baier: Most of the people on the stage, opponents, have a specific jobs plan on paper that people can read. Where's your jobs plan?

Rick Perry: Well you'll see a more extensive jobs plan, but the fact of the matter is you look at the state of Texas and see what we've done there."

That's been a common tactic for Governor Perry. He's always said he's a results guy when working with the state legislature. Giving grand themes for what he'd like to see accomplished, but leaving most of the details to lawmakers. That may not work on the national stage. Mitt Romney was ready to talk about his jobs plan, beginning with lowering business taxes.

Mitt Romney: Small business pays at the highest rate. We need to get those rates down to globally competitive levels.

And he didn't stop with point number one.

Mitt Romney: Number 2, number 3, number 4 and my list goes on and on in my 59 points.

Romney also found time to dig at what he hopes is becoming a sore spot for Governor Perry: Social Security. Rick Perry managed to get in a few jabs at Romney on Massachusetts' mandated health care plan. Perry calls it "Romney-care." In the end the debate did little to dispel the notion that the GOP nomination is quickly becoming a two person race.

Reporting for KUT News, I'm Ben Philpott.