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Perry, Romney Square Off as Top Republican Contenders

Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L), and Texas Governor Rick Perry shake hands at the finish of a Republican presidential candidate debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, S

Following the latest debate and several recent polls, the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination next year appears to be between two contenders, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

There were eight Republican candidates on stage during the latest debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, but Perry and Romney seemed to draw most of the attention.

Recent polls show Perry has jumped into a lead over Romney, who had led the Republican field for months.

And both men insist their experience in job creation at the state level makes them the best choice to take on President Barack Obama in next year’s election.

Perry, Romney tout records

Perry is the longest continuously serving governor in the country, and took office following George W. Bush’s election as president in late 2000.

“When you look at what we have done during the past decade, we have created over 1 million jobs in the state of Texas at the same time that America lost over two-and-one-half million,” said Perry.

Romney served four years as Massachusetts governor and also boasts about creating jobs during his tenure. But Romney said he is the better choice because he spent years in private business before turning to politics.

“My experience having started enterprises, having helped other enterprises grow and thrive, is what gives me the experience to put together a plan to help restructure the basis of America’s economic foundation so we can create jobs again and good jobs and compete with anyone in the world,” he said.

During the latest debate, the other six Republicans struggled at times to be heard as Perry and Romney made occasional jabs at each other’s record.

Bachmann gets overshadowed

Perry’s quick rise in the polls has come largely at the expense of Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, said American University expert Allan Lichtman.

“But I think ultimately this is probably going to come down to a two-person race between Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. I do not think Michele Bachmann, despite winning the Iowa Straw Poll, which historically has predicted nothing, has a broad enough appeal to be a candidate in the long run,” said Lichtman.

Bachmann had hoped her first-place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll last month would catapult her to the top of the crowded Republican field, but she has fallen back into third or fourth place in the latest polls.

Perry may have edge

Political analysts say Perry may have an advantage heading toward the presidential caucus and primary votes early next year because of his appeal to conservative Republican voters.

American Enterprise Institute expert Norman Ornstein said Perry appeals to social conservatives because of his religious background and also to Tea Party activists who want to cut the size of the federal government.

“The excitement behind Perry is as much a reflection of Republicans being uneasy about Mitt Romney as their nominee, and uneasy about all the other alternatives in terms of their electability,” said Ornstein.

Two more debates are scheduled for this month alone, and analysts say there is still plenty of time for frontrunners to stumble and for some of the lesser-known contenders to move up in the polls.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.