Students gather to watch GOP presidential debate
As a group of USC students and South Carolina Treasurer Curtis Loftis watched in support Thursday night, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney discussed his stances on education and blasted Texas Gov. Rick Perry during the Fox News–Google Republican debate.
A recent Winthrop University poll still finds Perry ahead of No. 2 Mitt Romney among South Carolina voters, but the gap has dropped from an 11-point lead in August to a three-point lead — within the poll’s margin of error.
Romney harshly criticized Perry during Thursday’s debate for voting to allow the children of illegal immigrants in Texas to pay in-state tuition.
“You know how much that is? It’s $22,000 a year — four years of college and that’s almost a $100,000 discount if you’re an illegal alien to go to the University of Texas,” Romney said. “If you’re an American citizen from any one of the other 49 states you have to pay $100,000 more. That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Several other candidates criticized Perry for supporting what they consistently labeled a magnet for illegal immigration. But instead of retracting or downplaying his stance, as critics say Perry has done with his view of social security as a “Ponzi scheme,” the Texas governor gave an impassioned defense.
“I feel pretty normal being criticized by these folks, but the fact of the matter is this: There is nobody on this stage who has spent more time working on border security than I have,” Perry said. “I supported Arizona’s immigration law by joining in that lawsuit to defend it. Every day I have Texans on that border that are doing their job. But if you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.”
Perry finished his defense by saying that, without education, the children of illegal immigrants will become a “drag on our society.”
His response was met with loud boos from the audience.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum jumped in to call Perry soft on immigration because of his stance and the fact that he wants to put more “boots on the ground” on the U.S.–Mexico border rather than building a fence.
“Gov. Perry, no one is suggesting up that the students who are illegal in this county shouldn’t be able to go to a college or university,” Santorum responded. “I think you’re sort of making this leap that unless we subsidize this then they won’t be able to go. Why should they be given preferential treatment as illegals in this country?”
Earlier, Perry had been the one to spark the tete a tete by saying Romney’s alleged support of President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top education program was not conservative. Race to the Top puts states’ education systems in competition with one another to win federal grant money.
In his retort, Romney did not clarify whether or not he supported the program, but he gave a novel view on the common demand by students and parents for smaller class sizes.
“All the talk that we need smaller class sizes, that’s promoted by the teacher’s unions to hire more teachers,” Romney said.
But it was Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann who voiced the most radical view on education.
“What I would do as president is pass the mother of all repeal bills with education,” Bachmann said. “Then I’d go over to the Department of Education, I’d turn off the lights, I’d lock the door and I’d send all the money back to the states and localities.”
A poll during the debate showed that 47 percent of Fox News voters agreed with Bachmann, saying they would cut the Department of Education before any other federal department.
Treasurer Loftis said Thursday at the Ale House, where the USC Romney supporters had gathered, that his endorsement of Romney was an easy decision.
“Perry has been a government employee for almost his entire life. Romney has been a private employer for his entire life,” Loftis said. “Romney has been signing the front of the checks, and Perry has been signing the back of the checks, and to me that makes a big difference.”