New York The Republican presidential race has become a no-holds-barred contest over character.
With the pace of the GOP contest quickening, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are resorting to tough language online and while campaigning to undermine each other’s credibility and values.
“It’s time for you to tell the truth,” Perry said during last week’s Republican debate, all but calling the former Massachusetts governor a liar.
The Texas governor also is trying to cast Romney as someone who lacks a core set of beliefs, highlighting Romney’s shifts on health care and other issues in hopes of dislodging him from atop the field.
Romney is portraying Perry as a dimwitted novice who coddles illegal immigrants and takes liberties with his economic record.
“The great challenges we have we will overcome,” Romney said in South Dakota recently, “if we have leaders that will tell the truth, and live with integrity, and who, by virtue of their life experience, know how to lead.” It was a suggestion that Perry didn’t fit that bill.
The amped-up rhetoric signals a more aggressive phase in the race and sets the tone in the 10 weeks before the nominating contest begins in Iowa in early January. It also illuminates campaign strategies and previews likely attack ads sure to surface on television soon.
It’s raised concerns among some Republicans, who fear a drawn-out, personal battle between their top contenders will only help President Barack Obama’s chances of winning next year.
“I don’t like that, I’m not for that. I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican, he didn’t think it was smart to attack each other and I don’t either,” oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens told Fox News last week after Romney and Perry got in each other’s faces during the Las Vegas debate.
Despite their oft-stated reverence for Reagan, the two leading Republican hopefuls are ignoring Reagan’s so-called 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
Romney, seen as the Republican to beat, has identified Perry as his top rival, even with businessman Herman Cain polling well and lower-tier contenders such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum drawing positive buzz in debates.
Only Perry has been able to compete with Romney in fundraising and the two are expected to have enough resources for a protracted national campaign if necessary. Both have the backing of powerful special political action committees that can raise unlimited funds to run attack ads of their own.