SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- Rick Perry's front runner status put him at the center of attention at the Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library, Wednesday night.
When you're a presidential front runner, the safe strategy might be to lay back and play it safe. Perry tore that page out of the playbook in the first few minutes by taking on his closest rival former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney.
"We created more jobs in the last three months in Texas than he created in four years in Massachusetts," Perry charged.
"Texas has zero income tax. Texas has a right-to-work state, a Republican legislature, a Republican supreme court," Romney countered.
"Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground. Those are wonderful things. But Governor Perry doesn't believe that he created those things. If he tried to say that, it would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet," he continued.
"Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt," Perry responded.
"As a matter of fact, George Bush, and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor," Romney said.
Cutting into the back and forth between the two candidates, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman called out both of the former governors.
"I hate to rain on the parade of the great Lone Star governor, but as governor of Utah, we were the number one job creator in this country in my years as governor," Huntsman said.
"I was 5.9 percent when you were creating jobs at 4.9 percent. And to my good friend, Mitt, it just ain't going to cut it, my friend," he said.
Candidate Herman Cain leaned on his business experience to lay out a plan of his own for the economy.
"A 9 percent tax on corporate income. A 9 percent tax on personal income, and a 9 percent national sales tax. If 10 percent is good enough for God, 9 percent ought to be good enough for the federal government," Cain told the audience.
On Social Security, Romney went after Perry for his labeling the system a failure.
"You can't say that to tens of millions of Americans who live on Social Security and those who have lived on it," he charged.
Perry's description of Social Security being "a ponzi scheme" in his book, "Fed Up," has even put him on the defense against influential Republicans like Karl Rove.
"You know, Karl has been over the top for a long time in some of his remarks, so I'm not responsible for Karl anymore," Perry said.
Candidates Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul joined in the Perry-bashing for his signing an executive order that would have required young Texas girls to be vaccinated against cervical cancer.
Perry pointed out that there was an opt out provision. But that didn't stop his critics.
"I would expect this from President Obama. I would not expect this from someone who's calling himself a conservative governor," Santorum said.
"Forcing 12-year-old girls to take an inoculation to prevent this sexually transmitted disease, this is not good medicine," Paul said.
"It is wrong for government, whether it's state or federal government, to impose on parents what they must do to inoculate their children," Bachmann said.
With all the GOP verbal skirmishes that took place during the debate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich laid the blame at the feet of the media.
"Well, I'm frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other," he said.
Now that the Republican debate in California is over, the GOP presidential candidates move on to Florida where there will be two debates in the next two weeks.
Perry is going to continue to come under attack from his opponents. And as they say in Texas, he had better saddle up.