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.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry
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.