SIMI VALLEY, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- This wasn't Texas Governor Rick Perry's first rodeo but Wednesday's Republican presidential debate still had to be a daunting experience for the politician, who jumped into the race late but already seems to be leading the GOP field. That frontrunner status made him a prime target early on. Moderator Brian Williams dove right into the issue of the flagging U.S. economy, beginning with a tough question for Perry by throwing out a number of troubling statistics on Texas, such as its last ranking of citizens who have graduated in high school, and asking if he thought this was what Americans are looking for. Perry responded, as many of candidates would this evening, by touting job creation on his watch. "Actually what Americans are looking for is someone who can get the country working again, and we put the model in place in the state of Texas," Perry answered, saying the state has created 1 million jobs over the past decade.
Perry went on to take issue with Williams' assertion that many of those jobs must be low-wage positions, noting companies like Facebook have expanded in his state, and said business entrepreneurship had to be encouraged. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was up next, and he claimed he created more jobs in the state in his four-year term than President Barack Obama has created for the entire country. Romney, a former private equity superstar at Bain Capital, was also asked about his track record as a buyout baron and disagreed with the perception that his business consisted of loading up acquired companies with debt, cutting their operations back, and reselling them. "This country has a bright future," he said. "Our president doesn't understand how the economy works. I do because I've lived in it." Perry and Romney then got into it a bit over the issue of what kind of candidate was more desirable -- a career politician or someone with real world business experience. Predictably, Romney touted his record as a successful executive, and Perry defended his mainly political background. "While he had a good private sector record, his public sector record didn't match that," Perry said. Romney countered that states are different, listing a number of advantages that Texas has over other states, such as its oil assets and no personal income tax rate.
|Texas Gov. Rick Perry|
Other highlights in the debate included some back-and-forth over Romney's branding of China as a currency manipulator with former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., a former ambassador to China, saying that fixing the U.S.-China relationship requires the U.S. strengthening its "core" because the way things currently stand, America has no leverage at the negotiating table. "Now is not the time, during a recession, to enter a trade war," Huntsman said, later detailing his record in foreign relations. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was asked what federal regulations have hurt small businesses, and she zeroed in on Obamacare -- the president's health care reform legislation -- saying that it's "killing jobs." "One thing I know is that kids need jobs, and Obamacare is clearing killing jobs, not creating them," she said. Ron Paul, who has left his House seat to concentrate on his run for president was characterized as "the absolutist" by moderator Williams, who asked him how far he takes the idea that the federal government should have no authority in any area not specifically granted by the Constitution. "Does this include things like making medicines safe, cars safe, air traffic control?" Williams asked. "The regulation of the marketplace takes care of it," Paul said in his answer, while making clear that he understands the need to transition away from so much federal regulation and is not advocating going cold turkey. Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House from Georgia, spoke about his long history within the Republican party, referencing his work with Ronald Reagan himself, who was mentioned frequently in the debate taking place within his presidential library. Gingrich pulled no punches with regard to the sitting president. "The fact that President Obama doesn't come to the Reagan library to try to figure out how to create jobs, doesn't talk to any of these three governors to learn how to create jobs, doesn't talk to Herman Cain to learn how to create jobs, tells you that this is a president so committed to class warfare and so committed to bureaucratic socialism that he can't possibly be effective on jobs," Gingrich said. Later in the debate, Gingrich said the Republican party would present a united front to defeat Obama in the upcoming election. -- Written by Michael Baron in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com