The Republican presidential contenders closed out a busy month of debates tonight with their second meeting in as many weeks in Florida.
Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and – for the first time in months, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson – headlined a nine-person field for the debate on Fox News Channel.
Boston.com and its politics blog, “Political Intelligence,’’ offered a live blog throughout the two-hour event.
In advance of the debate, Romney attacked Perry’s Social Security views in a state filled with retirees.
“How many ways can Rick Perry be wrong on Social Security?’’ read a headline on a Romney press release today that recapped the Texas governor’s recent statements.
In return, Perry took a broader approach, criticizing Romney for a policy panned by the broader conservative Republican electorate: the creation of a mandatory universal health care program while he served as governor of Massachusetts.
“I think the real clear distinction is that he stood up and said … that it was the right thing for Massachusetts,’’ Perry told Fox News host Sean Hannity last night. “But it wasn’t the right thing for Massachusetts. The Beacon Hill study that was out just this last week said it cost 18,000 jobs in Massachusetts alone.’’
Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, participated in the first debate of the presidential race, in May in South Carolina. But he has been excluded from subsequent debates.
Politico reported that Fox News invited Johnson over the objection of the Florida Republican Party.
The party said the rules require a candidate to receive at least 1 percent support in five recent national polls; Fox interpreted the criteria in a way more favorable to Johnson – requiring candidates to poll 1 percent only in polls where they were listed as an option.
The debate was the third meeting of the candidates this month. They previously debated at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California and at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Fla., host city of next year’s Republican National Convention.
The respite is brief, though.
The next debate is scheduled for Oct. 11 in Hanover, N.H., followed by a second meeting of the month on Oct. 18 in Las Vegas.