, SIMI VALLEY, California, Sep 8 – Texas governor and Republican presidential frontrunner Rick Perry touted his job-creating record, as he made his debate debut claiming he is best placed to beat Barack Obama.
Perry, who only joined the GOP race last month, traded blows with former frontrunner Mitt Romney on how to kick-start America’s recovery and kick President Obama out of the White House next year.
But Perry’s first candidates’ debate also raised questions about some of his more hardline views, including his firm skepticism about climate change and his view that social security is nothing but a “Ponzi scheme.”
Within minutes of the debate starting in the Ronald Reagan presidential library in California Perry and Romney came to blows over the central issue of jobs, trading jabs about their records as state governors.
“What Americans are looking for is someone who can get this country working again,” said Perry, taking aim at Romney’s claim to have created tens of thousands of jobs in businesses he backed as an investment fund manager.
Romney “did a great job of creating jobs in the private sector all around the world,” said Perry, suggesting the jobs created by his fund were more overseas than in the United States.
The former Massachusetts governor also touted his real-life experience of how to boost employment, saying he had created more jobs in his state alone than Obama had nationwide.
Jobs and the struggling US economy were always going to feature high on the agenda of the debate, ahead of a keynote speech by President Obama on Thursday aimed at tackling zero US job growth and reviving his own political fortunes.
Perry only joined the Republican field for the White House in mid-August, energizing a lackluster GOP race and leapfrogging straight into the lead ahead of Romney.
Two new polls this week put him in a strong lead: an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll gave him 38 percent against 23 percent for Romney, while a Washington Post/ABC News poll put them on 27 percent and 22 percent.
As well as the struggling economy – seen as a key area of vulnerability for Obama – the debate broaches policy areas from homeland security to immigration, and foreign policy to welfare reform and climate change.
Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party favorite whose poll surge was stemmed by Perry’s entry into the race last week, drew applause but some skepticism from her colleagues for saying she would reduce gas prices to two dollars a gallon.
On social security, Perry was blunt, saying the current system simply would not be able to pay for retirement of younger generations.
“It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’re paying into a program that’s going to be there. Anybody that’s for the status quo..is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids,” he said.
And on climate change, Perry reiterated his view that scientists have not proven the link with human activity.
Some analysts said those more extreme positions could prove problematic in the longer term.
“I thought Mitt Romney did a very good job tonight. He’s poised .. he made no mistakes, he was fluent on the economy,” said Steve Schmidt, who ran the 2008 campaign for John McCain and as yet undeclared candidate Sarah Palin.
“I think that Rick Perry, for his first debate, I think he did a decent job of talking about the economy, talking about his Texas record.”
But Schmidt raised questions about Perry’s rhetoric, for example talking “about the size of the government, he’s gonna cut the head off the snake, calling the president a liar, the Ponzi scheme rhetoric.
“All of these things may not necessary have a negative reaction in a Republican primary but all that is very problematic in the context of a general election when you’re trying to win in swing states.”
The Republican debate is the first of three over the next two weeks. Cable news channel CNN is to host a “Tea Party Republican Debate” on September 12, followed by a Fox News-organized event on September 22, both in Florida.