By Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times
September 8, 2011

Sharing a debate stage for the first time, Republicans Rick Perry and Mitt Romney sparred Wednesday night in a series of testy exchanges over jobs, Social Security and the proper tone of a candidate who presumes to lead the country.

The session at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley was the first to include the Texas governor, who has supplanted Romney as the presumptive GOP front-runner, and he was the focal point throughout most of the evening — though not always happily. At one point, the oft-targeted Perry compared himself to a piñata.

He did not, however, back down from his provocative stances on Social Security, which he likened to a Ponzi scheme, or climate change, which he challenged in the face of overwhelming evidence. “Let’s find out what the science truly is before you put the American economy in jeopardy,” Perry said.

Nor did he back away from raising collective eyebrows. “Maybe it’s time to have some provocative language in this country,” Perry said before he tartly dismissed President Obama’s assertion that the U.S. border in Texas was safer than in the past.

“Either he has some of the poorest intel of a president in the history of this country,” Perry said, “or he was an abject liar to the American people.”

The other six candidates on the stage often seemed like extras, visible but silent much of the time as Perry and Romney poked each other under prodding from the moderators, NBC news anchor Brian Williams and Politico editor John Harris.

The two candidates struck sparks practically from the start with a first exchange about jobs.

Perry touted the creation of 1 million positions in Texas and compared that with Romney’s performance in his one term as Massachusetts governor. “The fact is … he had one of the lowest job creation rates in the country,” Perry said. “As a matter of fact, we created more jobs in the last three months in Texas than he created in four years in Massachusetts.”

“Wait a second,” Romney interjected. “The states are different.”

He ticked off some of Perry’s advantages, including GOP legislative majorities, a Republican Supreme Court and the fact that Texas has “a lot of oil and gas in the ground.”

“Those are wonderful things,” Romney continued, “but Gov. Perry doesn’t believe that he created those things. If he tried to say that, why, it would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet.”

“Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt,” Perry jabbed back, referring to former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis.

“Well, as a matter of fact,” Romney replied, “George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor.”

To read entire story, click here.