The Note: Debate Day: Showdown In The Sunshine State

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

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."

MEANWHILE, IN NEW HAMPSHIRE…HUNTSMAN GAINING. Jon Huntsman has officially entered double digit territory in New Hampshire, according to a new poll by Suffolk University. ABC's Sarah Kunin reports that the former governor garnered 10 percent in a poll of 400 likely Republican primary voters, ranking third out of eleven GOP hopefuls. Mitt Romney stood well ahead of the pack at 41 percent, followed by Ron Paul at 14 percent. Frontrunner Rick Perry took fourth place with 8 percent. Huntsman's campaign was delighted by the news, quickly sending out a fundraising email titled: "On The Hunt! Jon Jumps In New Poll." "We have exciting news to share this evening," campaign manager Matt David wrote to supporters. "A new poll just released shows Governor Huntsman's support jumping in New Hampshire, and confirms what we have known all along about Jon: once you get to know him, you're for him."

ON TODAY'S "TOP LINE." ABC's Rick Klein and Zach Wolf feature Jonathan Karl's "Subway Series" interview with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex. Also on the program, Eddie Vale, communications director of the health care reform advocacy group, Protect Your Care. Watch "Top Line" LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

"SUBWAY SERIES" PREVIEW: Senator Cornyn To Warren Buffett: Show Me The Money:

"Top Line" guest Eddie Vale's group, Protect Your Care, has unveiled a new television ad today called "Listen" aimed directly at the Republican candidates. "The ad hits the candidates twice on their extreme plan to end Medicare and their extreme silence as they stood idly by on stage without comment as members of the audience applauded letting someone die," says Vale. It's a reference to a moment during a recent CNN-Tea Party Express debate when some in the crowd indicated their approval when the moderator asked candidate Ron Paul if he would let an uninsured man with a serious medical condition and no health insurance die. The group is also up with an accompanying website.

WHITE HOUSE WATCH: OBAMA TOUTS JOBS PLAN IN OHIO. "The president travels to Cincinnati, Ohio, this afternoon to promote more government infrastructure spending as part of the American Jobs Act -- a plan that has become the centerpiece of his reelection campaign -- with a speech at the dilapidated Brent Spence Bridge," ABC's Devin Dwyer and Mary Bruce report. "The president's second visit to Ohio in as many weeks underscores the state's significance to his bid for another term and the challenges aides see in keeping it blue. Ohio went for Obama by 5 percentage points in 2008, but polls show enthusiasm for the president there has waned. The bridge, which will be a backdrop for the speech, is also significant, not only as an example of a need for infrastructure funds but because it links Ohio, home state of House Speaker John Boehner, with Kentucky, the home state of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Both Republican leaders and their colleagues oppose Obama's plan. "You think these things happen by accident?" Boehner said when asked about the selection of the bridge for Obama's event. Administration officials insist if there's any symbolism intended by the optics of the event it's that a pending $2.4 billion project to rehabilitate the Brent Spence Bridge has bipartisan support in the state, and would put thousands of construction workers back on the job."

Headline from today's Cincinnati Enquirer: "Experts say Obama's visit won't help bridge": "A presidential visit is a big deal, but will it actually guarantee funding for the aged and overused Brent Spence Bridge? Not really, say transportation experts and highway officials. That's not how highway funding works." More from the story


MITT ROMNEY'S MIDDLE CLASS MOMENT. Mitt Romney may be a multimillionaire, but on Wednesday he set his net worth aside and declared himself a member of "the great middle class." "We ought to provide help to the people who have been hurt most by the Obama economy. And that's the middle class," Romney said at a town hall meeting in Miami. "It's not those at the very low end; it's certainly not those at the very high end. It's for the great middle class — the 80 to 90 percent of us in this country." Although Romney referred to "the 80 to 90 percent of us," his membership in that group is a matter of some doubt. Romney's net worth is somewhere between $190 and $250 million, according to the candidate's personal financial disclosure filed in August with the Federal Election Commission. Romney is well aware of what tax bracket he's in, campaign aides say. "Today Gov. Romney discussed, as he has many times on the campaign trail, his tax plan which is targeted at providing relief for middle class Americans; he was asserting nothing about himself," Romney's spokeswoman Andrea Saul told ABC News. But his comment -- innocuous as it may be -- illustrates the challenge Romney faces in casting himself as a fast-food eating, discount airline flying regular guy instead of a former Bain Capital executive with a bulging bank account.

A tracker with the Democratic Super PAC, American Bridge, captured video of Romney's event. WATCH

@American_Bridge: If Romney hates Fannie & Freddie so much, why does he invest in them?

PERRY: WE DON'T NEED 'OBAMA-LITE.' "In his first televised interview since announcing his candidacy, Texas Governor Rick Perry found a new way to categorize his Republican rivals who bear similarities to President Obama and his policies -- 'Obama lite,'" ABC's Arlette Saenz notes. "'We don't need to nominate Obama lite. We don't need to nominate someone who is going to blur the lines between President Obama and our nominee,' Perry said in an interview on the Hannity Show. Perry highlighted the link between Mitt Romney's healthcare plan in Massachusetts and the national plan developed by President Obama in 2010. 'I think it's important that we have a clear distinction between any of the candidates, and when you take a look at what Mitt did from the standpoint of Romneycare in Massachusetts, you're going to have a hard time finding a difference between Obamacare and Romneycare. That's just the facts and there's no way around it. The facts are the facts.' … The Texas governor, who has received the brunt of attacks from his Republican rivals in recent debates, said his years as Texas governor have prepared him for the criticism and accusations launched by his opponents. 'I've been doing this for a pretty good spell. Running 3 times in Texas for governor, we've caught a lot of javelins.'"

WHO IS OBAMA'S TOP 2012 FUNDRAISER?"Four years ago, Matthew Barzun taught a session called "Hunting vs. Farming" to a group of rookie Barack Obama fundraisers in a Chicago hotel ballroom. The former executive at CNET Networks Inc. told them that tracking and 'bagging' wealthy donors is important in presidential fundraising, while adding new donors -- even small ones -- can yield bigger dividends," reports Bloomberg News' John McCormick. "Barzun, 40, now is putting his strategy to the test as he leads the effort to raise as much as $1 billion for the 2012 re- election bid amid a struggling economy and Obama approval ratings at the lows of his presidency. 'Part of farming is, yes, make hay when the sun is shining,' he said in his Chicago campaign headquarters office during his first interview as Obama's national finance committee chairman. 'But there will be rain, and our job is to do well with rain, too, and don't get all freaked out.' It's a message Barzun delivered to fundraisers this week during a training session called 'Obama University' that attracted more than 100 money raisers from across the U.S. Barzun resigned in May as the U.S. ambassador to Sweden so he could accept his new assignment. It's a post previously held by Penny Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire and businesswoman, who helped raise a record $745 million for Obama's 2008 campaign."

GOP HOUSE MEMBERS: NOT SO EASY BEING GREEN. "The GOP-led House Oversight Committee may be accusing the White House of a 'job killing' green energy agenda in a hearing Thursday -- but at least ten Republicans on the panel have signed letters seeking to land green energy jobs in their districts," writes the Huffington Post's Michael McAuliff. "In dozens of letters obtained by The Huffington Post, the lawmakers, led by Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), argue convincingly about Department of Energy funding going to their favored projects, often touting the job-creating potential of numerous endeavors. The issue erupted earlier this month when reports broke that the bankrupt solar manufacturer Solyndra, which got $535 million in loan guarantees from the stimulus bill, was raided by the FBI. Although the guaranteed loan project began under the Bush administration, many Republicans were quick to hammer the deal as evidence of "cronyism" -- and proof that Obama's key green jobs effort was a huge bust. As it turns out, many of the committee members set to grill Obama administration officials Thursday were plenty eager to help constituents cash in on the efforts."


As Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman prepares to go to Capitol Hill today to highlight the clean energy jobs created during the Obama Administration, a Energy Department source tells ABC News: "We are announcing a significant milestone in our weatherization program -- weatherization of the 500,000th house through a program that has employed more than 14,000 people -- and releasing a new video featuring the personal story of a worker at one of our battery manufacturing plants who got a job in Michigan after being out of work for more than two years. It's a powerful and emotional testament to the impact our investments are having on real people, and real communities around the country." WATCH

American Center for Law and Justice's Jay Sekulow and Brett Joshpe, write an Op-Ed in The Washington Times todaymaking the case that a Palestinian state doesn't meet the U.N.'s criteria for statehood: "As much as the Palestinians want to exist as an independent state and as much as other members of the international community want them to as well, it simply is not the case. First, the Palestinians lack both a defined territory and a defined population. In the West Bank, areas are designated A, B and C, with the Palestinians exercising virtually no control in Area C and limited control in A and B. Second, their government consists of an internationally recognized terrorist group - Hamas - and the Palestinian Authority (PA), whose authority is only recognized through the Oslo Accord agreements with Israel." More from their Op-Ed:

NOTABLE: MARCO RUBIO SCOOPS UP ALEX CONANT. "Alex Conant, who served as spokesman for Tim Pawlenty's presidential campaign, will become Sen. Marco Rubio's press secretary starting Oct. 3," reports the St. Petersburg Times' Alex Leary. "Before Pawlenty, Conant worked for Sen. John Thune. 'He is a skilled and experienced communicator who will be a great asset to me in the Senate as we work to create jobs, tackle the debt and keep America safe,' Rubio said in a statement." Alex, who was also a spokesman for the Republican National Committee during the last presidential election cycle, tells The Note: "Very much looking forward to returning to the Senate and exchanging Minnesota winters for Florida." WHO'S TWEETING?

@thegarance: CIS says that under Perry, "more than 3/4ths of job growth in Texas went to newly arrived non-citizens" not the US-born

@RyanLizza: Rove's latest WSJ piece leaves little doubt he favors Romney over Perry:

@IACaucus2012: New Paul ad focuses on military: The Ron Paul 2012 Presidential campaign released its latest television ad on T... The cowboy and the gladiator: Rick Perry and Russell Crowe have a transcontinental bromance, apparently.

@SJLorber: Strong Utah PAC set up to protect Sen. Orrin Hatch from tea party challengers.


(all times local)

* The Republican Party of Florida will host Presidency 5, a conference that includes a straw poll of more than 3,000 Florida GOP delegates, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. GOP presidential candidates will speak throughout the day.

* Fox News and Google host a Republican presidential debate in Orlando, Fla., at 9 p.m. It will be moderated by Special Report anchor Bret Baier with panelists Chris Wallace, host of FOX News Sunday and Megyn Kelly, anchor of America Live. Nine presidential candidates will participate.

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