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After letting Mitt Romney attack, Rick Perry team fighting back aggressively

Texas Governor Rick Perry stepped up his attacks on fellow Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney after Perry stumbled - and Romney pounced - during a debate on Sept. 22 in Orlando, Fla. Phelan M. Ebenhack-Pool/AP

Rick Perry jumped into the presidential race and immediately vaulted past Mitt Romney in Republican polls and campaign-trail buzz.

That prompted Romney to launch a blistering series of emails and campaign documents critiquing the Texas governor’s record that largely went unanswered.

Now, after Perry has logged two weak debate performances and pro-Romney chatter has spread beyond the GOP establishment, the Perry team has found its sea legs and the Texans are fighting back with equal intensity.

“Pro-Stimulus Romney,’’ read the subject line on one email sent about midday yesterday. “Romney’s Stimu-Flop’’ read the subject line on another yesterday morning.

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On Tuesday, the attack was headlined, “Mitt Romney’s Race to the Flop.’’ On Monday, it read: “No ‘Tall Tale’ – Listen to Mitt Romney in his Own Voice Read his Deleted Words that Romneycare is a National Model.’’

It’s not like you had to open it to figure out what it was about, but most of the emails have perpetuated responses Perry delivered during their last debate, on Sept. 22 in Orlando, Fla.

In that contest, Perry accused Romney of modifying passages in the policy treatise he wrote, “No Apology,’’ between its 2010 hardcover and 2011 paperback editions.

Romney scoffed off the criticism on stage, even attacking Perry by saying, “One reason to elect me is that I know what I stand for. I’ve written it down. Words have meaning.’’

But the Perry camp has underscored the validity of the charge with followup messages highlighting the changes in black and white.

A Romney subsequently spokeswoman conceded some edits, though she blamed them on “changes in the climate’’ caused by the passage of time.

“Mr. Romney talks a good game, but just can’t shoot straight about Romneycare being the father of Obamacare,’’ Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said in a statement last Friday. “Time and again he changes positions and policies to suit his political needs. Mr. Romney promised no retreat from his book. Now his campaign admits he changes his positions to match changes in the political climate, such as denying Romneycare should be a national model now that Obamacare is a job-killing disaster.’’

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On Monday, the Perry team renewed the criticism with a video highlighting another deleted passage. In it, Romney had celebrated the universal health care program he signed into law while governor of Massachusetts and said, “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country.’’

In this case, the video included Romney himself reading the deleted passage in an audiobook of the original edition.

On Tuesday, Perry released another video highlighting complimentary statements Romney made about Education Secretary Arne Duncan and aspects of the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top’’ education program.

“Whether it’s government-mandated health insurance or federal encroachment on America’s public schools, Mr. Romney’s smooth delivery hides positions that change with the political climate. The next president needs to have strong conservative principles Americans can count on,’’ Sullivan said in that statement.

Yesterday, Perry aides focused on Romney’s statement in the hardcover version of “No Apology’’ that aspects of the administration’s economic stimulus program would “accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery.’’

That passage was replaced in the paperback edition with the comment that the stimulus “has been a failure.’’

“Governor Romney is Obama-lite – supporting the stimulus, government-mandated health care, and federal intervention into schools – but when his liberal positions are discovered, he flips with ease,’’ said another Perry spokesman, Mark Miner.

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A review of the Romney campaign’s emails shows that the former governor – and initial GOP front-runner – virtually ignored Perry for the first month of the campaign.

That changed Sept. 7, the day after Romney outlined his own job creation program, and the same day after Perry appeared in his first nationally televised debate.

It also was two days after Labor Day, which Romney himself had pegged as the day the American people would start tuning into the nomination fight.

With a sleek graphic showing Perry’s face – and hairstyles – between 1984 and 2011, Romney labeled the Texas governor a “career politician’’ and blasted his job creation record.

Another statement hit Perry for questioning the constitutionality of the Social Security program.

Over the ensuing weeks, more emails linked Perry to “Hillarycare’’ and accused the Texan of changing his views on US troops in Afghanistan.

All of it went virtually unanswered until the past week.

Once Perry struck back, Romney countered with statements questioning the truthfulness of Perry’s attacks.

“Perry’s Problem with the Truth,’’ read the headline of one early yesterday.

“Perry’s ‘Pincocchio’ Problem,’’ read another later in the day.

The latter noted that the “No Apology’’ hardcover passage Perry quoted about the Obama stimulus plan left off a critical caveat from Romney.

“The ‘all-Democrat’ stimulus that was passed in early 2009 will accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery, but not as much as it could have had it included genuine tax- and job- generating incentives,’’ Romney had written before making his subsequent revision.

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“One of Rick Perry’s biggest problems in this campaign is the truth,’’ said a statement from Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho. “Governor Perry can’t explain away his support for tuition benefits for illegal immigrants, or his plan to dismantle Social Security, or why he took stimulus funds to cover his budget deficit. Instead, he is running a campaign fueled by distortions and tall tales.’’

The Perry campaign is now lobbing the same charge back at the Romney team.

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