The Note: Debate Day: Showdown In The Sunshine State

Rick Perry has pulled the rug out from under Mitt Romney in the Sunshine State.

ByABC News
September 22, 2011, 9:22 AM

September 22, 2011 -- Nearly the entire Republican presidential field descends on Florida today for their third debate in as many weeks, and a new poll in the pivotal primary state shows a familiar story line.

Rick Perry has pulled the rug out from under Mitt Romney in the Sunshine State, usurping his once first-place standing there. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released today, 28 percent of Florida Republicans favor Perry compared to 22 percent who are supporting Romney.

(In an Aug. 4 Quinnipiac survey, taken before Perry officially jumped into the race, Romney led in the state with 23 percent with the yet-to-be-announced Perry at 13 percent.)

Not only that but in a state replete with retirees, it appears that Perry's "Ponzi scheme" line plays well. By a 60 percent to 14 percent margin, Florida Republicans say "Perry wants to fix Social Security."

It's a potentially distressing finding for the Romney campaign, which spent much of yesterday hammering away at Perry on Social Security.

Paraphrasing Perry, Romney told a group of Miami residents who gathered at a town hall meeting yesterday, "He said, by any measure, Social Security is a failure. I disagree. I think by the measure of the tens of millions of people who rely on Social Security it's a success.''

Perry's communications director, Ray Sullivan, accused Romney of "sounding like a Democrat, distorting the truth and trying to scare senior citizens."

Look for Romney to offer up the electability argument again tonight on the debate stage in Orlando, Fla. where nine of the candidates, including the little-known former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, will square off at 9 p.m.

Why electability? Today's Quinnipiac poll found that in general election matchups with President Obama, Romney leads, 47 percent to 40 percent. By contrast, Perry comes up short against the president, 44 percent to 42 percent.

These days, the two leading candidates are engaged in a constant game of political one-upmanship. Both are trading high-profile endorsements just hours before tonight's debate. Perry has won the backing of Kansas governor and former presidential candidate Sam Brownback while Romney is announcing the support of Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

ABC's Jon Karl reports for "Good Morning America" on the increasingly fierce battle between Romney and Perry:

DEMOCRATIC COUNTER-PROGRAMMING. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is out with a pre-buttal to tonight's debate, which she calls "another right-wing variety show."

"On Social Security, no matter how you slice it -- from the rhetoric of one candidate to the stated position of another -- Republicans would undermine economic security for seniors. If Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or the rest of the field had their way and President Bush had been successful in privatizing Social Security, the consequences for our country would have been disastrous," Wasserman Schultz writes in a DNC memo. "During tonight's debate, you will not hear a single Republican candidate offer a real plan for creating jobs or building our economic recovery. All you will hear are the same tired economic policies that failed us in the Bush years, which Congressional Republicans have continued to pursue and which the Tea Party would double down on."