* More fireworks possible from Perry, Romney
* Tea Party members will ask questions of candidates
* Perry calls for 'frank discussion' on Social Security
(Adds Perry quotes, Pawlenty endorses Romney)
By John Whitesides
TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - The budding rivalry of
Republican presidential contenders Rick Perry and Mitt Romney
takes the spotlight Monday when the party's White House
hopefuls meet in Florida for their second debate in less than a
The debate, co-sponsored by the Tea Party Express advocacy
group, will include questions from members of the conservative
Tea Party movement that has reshaped the U.S. political scene
with its focus on limited government and reduced spending.
It will focus heavily on the economy and is likely to
feature more fireworks between Perry and Romney, who had
several sharp exchanges last week over the Social Security
retirement plan and job creation.
Perry, a conservative Tea Party favorite, has zoomed past
Romney to lead in opinion polls since entering the race last
month for the Republican nomination to challenge President
Barack Obama in 2012.
But Romney got a boost on Monday with the endorsement of
Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota who dropped out
of the race after a poor showing in last month's Iowa straw
poll, an early test of campaign strength.
Like Romney, Pawlenty based his campaign on his ability to
appeal to the more moderate voters needed to win a general
election. Perry's run to the top of Republican polls has been
powered by his strength with social and religious
The debate, which begins at 8 p.m. EDT and
will be telecast on CNN, will be held in Tampa, Florida, the
site of the party's nominating convention in less than a year.
Perry, the governor of Texas, called Social Security a
"Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie" during last week's debate.
That drew a rebuke from Romney, the former governor of
Massachusetts, who said he supported the popular retirement
program but wanted to fix it.
In a column in the newspaper USA Today, Perry said on
Monday the goal should be fixing Social Security by making it
more financially sustainable for the long-term.
"We must have a frank, honest national conversation about
fixing Social Security to protect benefits for those at or near
retirement while keeping faith with younger generations who are
being asked to pay," he said.
Perry's debate comments on the subject will be watched
closely in Florida, which has the country's biggest proportion
of elderly voters and hosts a potentially vital nominating
contest next year.
"It's going to be a good test of Perry's ability and his
staying power. He's going to be on the spot again," said Steve
Roberts, a former state party chairman and Republican National
Among the other candidates vying for attention on the
crowded Florida stage will be U.S. Representative Michele
Bachmann, who has seen her campaign begin to fade since winning
the Iowa straw poll last month.
Perry has robbed Bachmann of much of her support from
conservatives, which is crucial in states with early nominating
contests like Iowa and South Carolina.
Other candidates participating will be Jon Huntsman, the
former Utah governor, former U.S. House of Representatives
Speaker Newt Gingrich, businessman Herman Cain, U.S.
Representative Ron Paul and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.
The debate will be the fifth so far of the Republican
presidential campaign. It will be followed closely next week by
another debate in Orlando, Florida, as the White House race
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)
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