Perry’s competitive jab may have been intended as a friendly one, but his emphasis on Texas’s continued success at the expense of other states, underscores concerns by some of his advisers that the governor’s appeal could be circumscribed by his state's border.
Romney, on the other hand, played up federal priorities: corporate tax rates, the desire for regulators and government to ally with businesses, middle class tax cuts, and trade policies that could help U.S. businesses against competitors such as China.
Perry's foreign policy agenda has been hard to define and he didn't help himself at the debate. Asked what he would do if he received a “3 a.m. phone call” saying that Pakistan had lost control of its nuclear weapons to the Taliban, the Texas governor demurred. Responding would depend on building strong relationships with other countries, he said. “The point is, our allies need to understand clearly that we are their friends, we will be standing by with them,” he said. “Today we don't have those allies in that region that can assist us, if that situation that you talked about were to become a reality.”
Though most of the political attention is focused on the frontrunners Perry and Romney, the applause meter seemed to register the highest responses for Herman Cain and Ron Paul.
Cain even took a shot at Romney, to the crowd’s delight, when he compared their plans for overhauling the tax system.
“Unlike Governor Romney's plan, my plan throws out the old one. He's still hooked to the current tax code,” he said. “That dog won't hunt.”
Paul followed Cain, and received a question, sent via video from a couple in Indiana, right in the libertarian’s wheelhouse: Would he limit the size of the federal government?
“The responsibility of the president would be to veto every single bill that violates the 10th amendment. That would be the solution,” he said, succinctly. Moderator Chris Wallace, taken aback by the congressman's brevity, joked that he had much more time to answer the question.
The night’s final question came via YouTube, querying which of the other candidates would serve as running mate. Perry said he couldn’t just pick one. So, somewhat bizarrely, he picked two.
“If you could take Herman Cain and mate him up with Newt Gingrich, I think you would have a couple of really interesting guys to work with,” he said, drawing laughs.
Perry’s response drew a humorous retort from Romney.
“There are a couple of images I'm going to have a hard time getting out of my mind,” he said, laughing. Romney, though, offered no concrete response.
A few of the candidates did answer the question. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson said he would choose his fellow libertarian-leaning candidate, Paul, while Santorum said he would pick Gingrich. Paul said he wouldn’t decide until he reached one of the top two positions in the national polls, and Gingrich said he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by not selecting them.
Johnson also got off perhaps the night’s best line, saying, “My next door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this present administration.”
A transcript of Rush Limbaugh’s show from earlier in the day showed the popular conservative talk-show host deploying a similar joke.