ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann said Thursday that social conservatives don’t have to settle for a nominee who does not share their values, and rival Mitt Romney said the party should nominate someone from the private sector — double-teaming criticism of front-runner Rick Perry.

Romney and Bachmann opened a forum on faith and freedom ahead of Thursday night’s televised debate with sharp criticism of their chief rival. Other competitors were to follow at the event tailored to the religious voters who are a key part of their party’s base.

Bachmann said 2012 is a time for the GOP to nominate someone “who is a true social conservative.” She didn’t mention her rivals by name, but she has criticized Perry’s positions on illegal immigration and mandated vaccinations.

For his part, Romney’s familiar remarks pitched him as a proven businessman who detoured into politics for one term as Massachusetts’ governor.

“‘There are plenty of people who are running for president who are politicians. Nothing wrong with that. … I think it helps to have someone who has had a job, to create jobs for the American people,” said Romney, making his second presidential run.

The Perry campaign, with the Texas governor to speak near the end of the forum on the sidelines of a three-day GOP meeting, kept its eye on Romney.

“Romney flip-flops are legendary and are exactly why he isn’t connecting with conservative voters,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. “After years of pandering and policy evolution, Mr. Romney just can’t be trusted on important economic and social issues.”

The forums and debate come as the Republicans increase their criticism of each other. Romney and Perry have spent recent days trading jabs over Social Security, job creation and who is a better Republican.

It’s the latest example of the campaigns microscopically examining their rivals’ records and past statements in a game of political one-upmanship.

For instance: Texas added jobs during the economic recession under Gov. Perry’s leadership. But unemployment went up last month and is at the highest level since 1987, Romney has noted.

Romney filled in Massachusetts’ $3 billion budget hole without raising taxes as governor. Yet the state trailed 46 others in job creation, Perry shot back.

A poll released early Thursday suggested Florida Republicans slightly prefer Perry over Romney in their party’s battle to find a nominee to face President Barack Obama next year.

Perry was favored by 28 percent of the 374 registered Republican voters, compared with 22 percent who want Romney as their nominee. The random telephone survey, conducted Sept. 14-19 by Quinnipiac University, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.1 percentage points.

With five months remaining until the first nominating contests, the GOP contenders came to senior citizen-rich Florida this week, ready with lines sharpened for fellow Republicans more than for their once-favorite target, Obama.

“I’ve forgotten more about Israel than Rick Perry knows about Israel,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told reporters in Washington.

And Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a favorite of the party’s libertarian wing, renewed his criticism of Perry as a typical politician.

“He knows what people are thinking about, that’s how politicians operate,” Paul told reporters Wednesday before heading to Florida.

Also joining the Thursday night debate: Georgia businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (15)
  1. Jane Swisshelm says:

    We don’t need a social conservative for President. We need a President who serves all Americans, not just the right-wing Christians. Michele Bachmann would not serve millions of Americans because she is only interested in people like her. Forget the social legislation garbage for a while and concentrate on what really counts. Jobs, the high number of unemployed, an economy that is falling off a cliff are the problems that need to be addressed immediately. I don’t think any of those things are on Michele Bachmann’s radar because they are of no interest to her.

    1. laurie says:

      Do you speak for all Americans. Your opinion would not have served you very well at the founding of our United States. At your own peril you ignore the foundation that has propelled America to the status we have enjoyed for many years. The reason we are at the brink of destruction is because our current value system is not serving us very well, financially or any other. Do you dare open your mind to that truth.

  2. curly_racks says:

    Reason magazine (libertarian) recently conducted a poll and found that the majority of Americans are Liberal on Social Issues and Conservative on Financial Issues. Social Conservatives are some of the most UN-AMERICAN people we have to deal with.

    1. Jim says:

      I’ve always considered myself a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. So who should I vote for in 2012? None of them seem to fit.

      1. jan says:

        Me too and for me Huntsman seems the best of the bunch so far

      2. laurie says:

        Jim, that is why we are in the shape we are in as a country. You need to examine your social values. We do not need to persecute anyone for their beliefs, but we certainly don’t need to promote one over the other either. There are value’s that promote good and others that do harm. Can you decipher between the two?

    2. It's in there says:

      I enjoy Reason Magazine and read it all the time. But, what about “social liberals” that can’t comprehend fiscal responsibility (as opposed to your point)? Staying in the middle is sane. I’m far more socially liberal than I am socially conservative since I think it’s the pit of hypocrisy. Throw the two parties together and the answer is somewhere in there!

  3. My Way says:

    Or the highway.

    Let us tell you how it will be!!

  4. jim says:

    “conservatives don’t have to settle for a GOP nominee who doesn’t share their values”

    TRUE. they should, however, insist on someone who accepts facts AND who tells the truth.

    ms bachmann fails in both categories.

  5. TC says:

    I wonder how far this bag of skin would have got in life if she looked like Meg Whitmann?

    1. Ha! says:

      Meg was having such a good day until you made this comparison.

  6. TC says:

    She settled for a man who likes dudes, how come no one is outing him?
    Not there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s so obvious.

    1. Max says:

      Initially, I thought i might be the only one who made that observation. However, I hear it more and more from many quarters….

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