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As Florida debate looms, Gov. Rick Perry rides into Social Security storm

The focus of the Republican presidential campaign this week turns to Florida, where one in six residents receives Social Security benefits. And Rick Perry has some explaining to do.

The Texas governor and presidential front-runner called Social Security "a Ponzi scheme" and "monstrous lie" in last week's debate in California, leading Mitt Romney to suggest Perry is unelectable because he is hostile not just to how the cherished entitlement program is financed but to the program itself. Perry has previously called the program a failure and suggested it should be turned over to the states.

"Social Security is unsustainable in its current form. Most Americans and any honest leader has to admit that," Perry campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan said, dismissing Romney's criticism of Perry's Social Security rhetoric. "The governor sounded the alarm on the need to reform Social Security. He would protect benefits for those currently receiving them and those near retirement but wants a national discussion and review about the changes to the system to make it more stable and financially sound going forward."

The issue is sure to come up at Monday's CNN-Tea Party Express debate televised live from the state fairgrounds in Tampa from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

GOP straw poll

Michele Bachmann and Romney have declared they won't actively campaign for the Florida GOP's Presidency 5 straw poll mock election Sept. 24, but Perry says he's eager to participate.

"Florida is very important to me, and I am looking forward to bringing my pro-jobs conservative message to Florida and the Presidency 5 straw poll events," said Perry, who is assembling a strong Florida campaign team.

Every major candidate's name will be on the straw poll ballot, and even if Bachmann and Romney decide not to address the more than 3,000 delegates before the mock election, the delegates will have had an opportunity to see them speak and debate in Orlando on Sept. 22 and 23.

"You can't win the White House if you can't win Florida, and this event is the first real test for these national campaigns here in the Sunshine State," said state party spokesman Brian Hughes.

Presidency 5 spurned

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is turning his attention away from Florida toward New Hampshire. Though he has hired former Jeb Bush and Tim Pawlenty fundraiser Ann Herberger, Huntsman is shifting manpower out of his Orlando campaign headquarters to New Hampshire, where he has consistently polled toward the bottom of the field. The campaign early on had committed to participating in the Florida straw poll, but on Friday said shifting attention to New Hampshire partly reflected "the diminished importance of Florida's "P5."

Suffice it to say, that did not endear Huntsman to the Florida Republican Party.

"The Huntsman team has redefined irony," said party spokesman Hughes. "On the day a campaign that polls near last place calls Presidency 5 'diminished,' the campaign polling in first place announces it will vigorously compete to win P5. Florida Republicans will help the ultimate nominee win this state and the White House. Why any campaign would choose to disparage the 3,500 people who represent the core of our state party's base defies reason."

Iorio on leadership

Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio has a book coming out soon on leadership: Straightforward, Ways to Live and Lead.

Obama campaign hire

Former Florida Democratic Party communications director Eric Jotkoff has been hired to be Florida press secretary for Barack Obama's campaign, Organizing for America.

Before joining the Florida Democratic Party, Jotkoff worked as a member of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign staff, for the U.S. House of Representatives, on Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, and in senior positions on congressional and gubernatorial campaigns, including Rod Smith's.

Winner of the week

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. A ton of political operatives and political reporters will descend on the state fairgrounds in Tampa on Monday for the CNN-Tea Party Express Republican presidential debate. And afterward? The casino is a stone's throw away. This debate may generate some creative expense accounts.

Losers of the week

U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. The two members of Congress are trying to kill the redistricting reform measures overwhelmingly passed by Floridians last year, but their legal challenge was dismissed by a federal judge last week.

As Florida debate looms, Gov. Rick Perry rides into Social Security storm 09/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 7:06pm]
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