Presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry once again took aim at rival Mitt Romney's record on health care, but the former Massachusetts governor was ready with his comeback: At least "I care about people."
Romney is clearly a top-tier candidate in the Republican presidential primary, but he's failed to gain widespread support, in part because the Obama administration has said the health care plan Romney implemented in Massachusetts served as a model for Mr. Obama's federal health care overhaul.
When candidates were given a chance to ask each other questions in the Tuesday debate, hosted by the Washington Post and Bloomberg at Darmouth College, Perry zeroed in on Romney's biggest vulnerability. He pointed out that one of Romney's chief economic advisers, Glenn Hubbard, said "Romneycare" was equal to "Obamacare." He also said that the Massachusetts plan drove up premiums.
"How would you respond to this criticism of your signature legislative achievement?" Perry asked.
Romney defended the Massachusetts law, responding, "I'm proud we took on a major problem in our state."
He said that his law focused on getting insurance for the 8 percent of Massachusetts without health insurance. By comparison, he said, Mr. Obama's reforms "take over" the entire health care system. He promised that as president, he would repeal "Obamacare."
The Massachusetts law resulted in the lowest number of uninsured children, Romney continued -- setting up a contrast with Texas.
"We have less than 1 percent of our kids who are uninsured," he said to Perry. "You have a million kids."
He said that the number of uninsured children in Texas went down under Perry's predecessor in the governor's office, George W. Bush, but went back up under Perry.
"I care about people," Romney said.
Perry was given a chance to take another shot at Romney when debate moderators asked Perry about health care, but he was left having to defend his own record. He said Texas passed sweeping tort reform in 2003 and said the state drove down the cost of health insurance by 30 percent under his watch.
While he didn't take anymore shots at "Romneycare" on stage, Perry's campaign sent out multiple press releases to reporters slamming Romney's Massachusetts plan.
When given the opportunity to question their rivals, most of the other candidates directed questions at Romney -- another indication of his frontrunner status.
For his part, Romney threw a softball question at Rep. Michele Bachmann, asking her how she plans to get people back to work. Bachmann has faded in the polls recently, but her presence in the primaries siphons off support from other candidates that pose a bigger threat to Romney, like Perry.
More from the debate:
Republican debate: Winners and losers
Romney says he can work with "good" Democrats
Romney: "I'm not worried about rich people"
Gingrich: Fire Bernanke, imprison Dodd and Frank
Huntsman mocks Cain 999 plan as price of pizza