US Republican Hopefuls Debate in Key Election State

Posted September 12th, 2011 at 8:50 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Republican presidential hopefuls are facing off in their second debate in a week, as the 2012 election primary race takes shape.

The CNN / Tea Party debate in Florida Monday night features questions by conservative voters, so-called tea party activists, about federal welfare programs, balancing the budget, improving the economy, and creating jobs.

Front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney quickly traded barbs over the issue of the public pension system Social Security. Former Massachusetts governor Romney pressed Texas governor Perry repeatedly to clarify whether he still believes, as he wrote in a recent book, that Social Security is “unconstitutional.”

Perry said he would not eliminate the program, but said he did not believe the lawmakers of the 1930s and 1940s who created it did what was “appropriate” for America.

Social Security payments represent 41 percent of the income of elderly Americans and are an important issue in Florida, which has the largest proportion of elderly voters in the United States.

Despite previous comments from Perry likening the pension program to a “Ponzi scheme,” or investment fraud, a CNN/ORC International Poll before the debate showed 46 percent of Republicans over 65 years of age preferred Perry, compared to only 21 percent for Romney.

The latest poll numbers confirm Perry is also in the lead among Republican and independent voters of all ages, with Perry in the lead with 30 percent, followed by Romney at 18 percent.

Romney received some good news Monday, when former Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty announced his endorsement of the former Massachusetts governor.

But according to the CNN/ORC International poll, about three-fourths of voters just want a candidate who can beat President Barack Obama rather than one they agree with on every issue. Forty-two percent of those surveyed believe Perry is that candidate.

U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann, who had previously surged in the polls, saw her numbers drop from 10 percent to 4 percent, a major loss for the Tea Party favorite who last month won the Iowa Straw Poll, an unofficial, non-binding voting contest.

The latest poll put former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in third with 15 percent, although she has not announced her candidacy.