SIMI VALLEY -- New rivals Rick Perry and Mitt Romney continued to tangle in tonight's Republican presidential debate, with Romney slamming Perry for his controversial remarks about Social Security.
"Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security," the former Massachusetts governor said. "I will make sure that we keep the program and we make it financially secure."
Perry, who has called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme," stood by his remarks, calling the program a "monstrous lie" to America's young people.
The Texas governor brushed off questions about Social Security's popularity and the problem his rhetoric might create in the general election.
"Maybe it's time to have some provocative language in this country," Perry said.
Romney and Perry, the front-runners in the eight-candidate field, sparred for much of the debate. But as other candidates criticized Perry for his 2007 mandate that sixth-grade girls be vaccinated against HPV, a cause of cervical cancer, Romney offered Perry a soft landing.
Noting that Perry would do it differently if he had it to do over, Romney said he, too, has taken a "mulligan."
Romney said Perry's "heart was in the right place."
Editor's note: This post was updated at 7:35 p.m. to correct that Perry, not Romney, called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme."