Perry and Paul: Texas-Sized Feud?

Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry, left, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, talk during a break at a debate at the Reagan Library Sept. 7, 2011, in Simi Valley, Calif./Mike Nelson/EPA

While political pundits spent the day dissecting the on-camera debate performances of the GOP field Wednesday night, an off-camera moment between Rep. Ron Paul and Gov. Rick Perry has gotten just as much attention.

During one of the debate’s commercial breaks, an Associated Press photographer snapped a photo of a stern-looking Perry grabbing the arm of a startled Paul as he wagged his index finger in Paul’s face.

The photo has been making the rounds, drumming up the narrative that these Lone Star State politicians are in the midst of a Texas-sized feud. It’s still unclear just what the two candidates were discussing, and neither camp is talking. What is clear is that Paul is stepping up his attacks on the front-runner.

During the debate, Paul hammered Perry on everything from his conservative credentials to his record on job creation in the state of Texas.  Paul even threw punches over Perry’s support of Hillary Clinton’s failed health care initiative back in 1994, something Perry now says was a mistake.

Perry is, surprisingly, punching back. The governor questioned Paul’s support of Ronald Reagan, accusing the congressman of quitting the Republican party in 1988 over a feud with the former president.

Paul’s response was one of the more awkward exchanges of the evening. Paul was critical of Reagan’s spending and deficits but supported his message.

“His message is a great message,” Paul said.

The two will face each other again at the CNN -Tea Party Express debate Monday in Tampa, Fla.