Monday night's CNN/Tea Party Express Republican Presidential debate in Tampa most likely gave Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (Minn.) a second wind in the GOP primary. Given her latest poll numbers, the Iowa native and winner of the state’s straw poll needs to score knockout punches to stay in the ring with the two frontrunners.
Showing a much more aggressive stance than in the previous debates, Bachmann came out swinging and kept Texas Governor Rick Perry “on the ropes” for most of the night. Under the format of the debate, when a candidate criticizes another candidate by name, the latter receives a 30-second rebuttal. This meant that Perry had a lot of time to defend attacks from the other candidates.
In particular, he defended his positions on Social Security, immigration, job creation in Texas and his executive order that would have required schoolgirls to obtain the HPV vaccine.
Perry admitted that his executive order on the vaccine was a major blunder, and he should have implemented the requirement through the Texas legislature. “What was driving me,” Perry said, “obviously, was making a difference about young people's lives.”
Bachmann, as in the previous debate, wasted no time in criticizing Perry's decision.
“Little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don't get a mulligan,” Bachmann said, referring to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's defense of Perry's decision in the previous debate. Romney said that both of them would like to “take a mulligan,” a golf term meaning “do-over,” for decisions they made as governor.
In a new attack on Perry's HPV executive order, Bachmann interrupted moderator Wolf Blitzer, saying, “We cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there was a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate. We can't deny that.”
“What are you suggesting?” Blitzer asked.
“What I am saying is … the governor's former chief of staff was chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor... The question is, is it about life or potentially billions for a drug company?” Bachmann answered.
Many in the crowd of Tea Party activists, who seemed favorable to Perry during other parts of the debate, cheered Bachmann's answer.
In response to the accusation, Perry said, "The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million and if you're saying that I can be bought for 5,000, I'm offended.”
Perry drew some applause for his answer, but Bachmann drew even and even louder response when she countered by saying, “I'm offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice, that's what I'm offended for.”
Bachmann, unlike Perry, Romney or even former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, has no executive experience, having only served in the legislative branch, which makes attacking the former governors, an easy and effective strategy.
On the issue of immigration reform, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum noted that he is “the son of an Italian immigrant,” and immigration is “the lifeblood of this country.” However, “unlike Perry, I believe that we need to build more fence,” and “secure the border.”
Santorum also criticized Perry for supporting legislation in Texas that would allow undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition at Texas universities.
“The bottom line is, it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is, that is the American way. No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parent's brought you there, what have you,” Perry answered as the crowd booed. “That's what we've done in the state of Texas and I'm proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society, rather than telling them, 'you're gonna be on the government dole.'”
“The American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who've broken our laws and are here in the United States illegally,” Bachmann countered.
Bachmann has recently lost ground in national polls since Perry entered the race in early August, slipping from 12 to four percent in the most recent CNN poll released Monday. Her more aggressive attacks on Perry are an obvious attempt to regain some of that support lost to Perry, who has 30 percent in the same poll. Romney is second with 17 percent.
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who has not decided whether she will run for the presidency, supported Bachmann's charge after the debate on Fox News and called Perry's actions “crony capitalism.”
“That's part of the problem we have in this country, is that people are afraid, even within our own party, to call one another out on that,” said Palin.
The next debate will be on Sept. 22 in Orlando, Fla., and hosted by Fox News and Google.