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Perry attacks Romney for "integrity problem"

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks about Israel during a news conference in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Mary Altaffer
Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Mary Altaffer

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report gave an incorrect result for the straw poll in Michigan. Mitt Romney defeated Rick Perry by 51 percent to 17 percent.

Reeling from dismal showings in back-to-back straw polls over the weekend, Texas Gov. Rick Perry came out with guns blazing on Monday, accusing rival Mitt Romney of "an integrity problem" in a statement and video.

"Mitt Romney has an integrity problem, as evidenced in the video, Words Have Meaning," the Perry campaign said in a statement, providing a link to a web video attacking Romney.

Perry's campaign charged that Romney changed the wording of his book, "No Apology," between the hardcover and paperback editions in order to hide the fact that the former Massachusetts governor's health care plan served as the model for President Obama's national health care law.

"Mitt Romney is trying to run from the fact that President Obama used Romneycare as the model for Obamacare," the Perry campaign said.

Perry first unveiled his line of attack in Thursday's Orlando debate, pointing out that the hardback version of the book included the line, "We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, and it can be done without letting government take over health care." The first part of the sentence, referring to a nationwide health care plan, was later deleted from the paperback edition.

In a strategy he's employed during setbacks in previous Texas political campaigns, Perry is doubling down on his efforts to raise doubts about his chief rival. Over the weekend, Perry faltered in multiple venues: Romney beat him in the Michigan Republican straw poll, 51 percent to 17 percent. In a similar straw poll among Florida Republicans, Romney nearly tied Perry for second place although Perry was the only one of the two overtly stumping for votes. Perry's performance in a Thursday presidential debate before the straw polls has been widely panned.

The recycled attack this morning shows that Perry, who has been the punching bag for all of the candidates in each of the three GOP debates he has participated in so far, is still struggling to switch from playing offense to defense. Aside from attacking Romney for flip-flopping on his views on education reform in recent days and criticism of Romney's health care plan that are a standard part of his stump speech, Perry has struggled to pick fresh fights with his chief rival for the front-runner status.

An article by PolitiFact, a fact-checking service run by a newspaper consortium, rated Perry's attacks "mostly false" because the full context of Romney's words in the hardcover edition of his book talked about the importance of states developing a health care plan. PolitiFact's analysis: "My own preference would be to let each state fashion its own program to meet the distinct needs of its citizens," Romney wrote on page 177. "States could follow the Massachusetts model of they choose, or they could develop plans of their own."

"It has been widely proven that Rick Perry's weak claim on Mitt Romney's book is just a tall tale," said Andrea Saul, spokeswoman for Romney, in response to Perry's Monday statement and video. "Governor Perry should spend his time explaining his own book, 'Fed Up,' and not take on the challenge of two." Romney has attacked Perry for describing Social Security in his book as a "Ponzi scheme."

Painting the book changes as an issue of "integrity" is a new facet of the Perry camp's strategy, and may signify a larger strategy of highlighting Romney's shifting positions. It's an argument that Perry tried, and largely failed, to make in Thursday's debate when he got tongue-tied in the second hour.

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.