In fact, if there was one recurrent theme in this second GOP presidential debate of September is that other challengers, trailing badly in the polls, were unafraid of Perry's apparent bulldozer popularity. Each candidate had their moment in the klieg lights.
Romney, in addition to questioning Perry's stand on Social Security, questioned how much credit Perry should get for his state's economic success, saying the governor was "dealt four aces" in Texas: no state income tax, vast energy reserves, a GOP Legislature and GOP-led Supreme Court.
When asked if Perry deserved al the credit for Texas' solid job creation record, Rep. Ron Paul said "not quite." The Texas congressman complained that his taxes under Perry had "doubled" and noted that 170,000 new jobs in Texas were with the state government.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has fallen steadily in the polls since Perry entered the race, emphasized her role in Washington as an opponent of the admnistration, saying she alone in the GOP field was committed to legislatively nullifying Obama's health care law. At one point, Perry said he would nix it with an executive order.
Bachmann also said that wasn't tough enough and also faulted Perry for signing an executive order as governor requiring pre-teen girls in Texas to receive an inoculation for the HPV virus, transmitted through sexual contact, that can lead to cervical cancer. "There was a big drug company that made millions of dollars," Bachmann said, referring to the profits linked to the inoculation requirement, calling Perry's decision "flat out wrong."
Looking stung, Perry identified the drug company involved.
"It was Merck," Perry said. "The contribution was $5,000." He noted that he has raised over $30 million in political contributions. "If you think I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended."
Bachmann shot back . "I'm offended by the little girls and mothers who didn't have a choice."
Perry said families had an opportunity to "opt out" of the vaccine program but admitted the decision was a mistake and that he should have consulted the Legislature rather than use an executive order. Both Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum called the use of the executive order a grotesque government overreach. "This is big government run amok," Santorum said.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he could find $70 billion to $120 billion in Medicare and Medicaid fraud and would make his watchword "stop paying the crooks" when it came to entitlement spending. He also said, to deep applause, that it was foolhardy for Romney, Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to compete over who created more jobs. "the American people create jobs, not government," Gingrich said.
Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain said he was the only non-politician in the race who could see issues clearly and deliver non-conventional change to Washington. He pitched his 9-9-9 tax plan, a new method that would impose a 9 percent income tax, 9 percent corporate tax and 9 percent national sales tax.