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White House wannabes trade jibes

Republican presidential rivals Rick Perry and Mitt Romney have tangled over their records on creating jobs in a campaign debate that marked a contentious new turn in the race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama next year.

The debate was the first of three in as many weeks, at a time when the economy is struggling, unemployment is seemingly stuck at 9.1% and Mr Obama's popularity is sinking in the polls - all making the president seem more vulnerable than he appeared only a few months ago.

Far more than in earlier debates this summer, the candidates mixed it up in their first face-off since Mr Perry, the Texas governor, entered the race and almost instantly overtook Mr Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, as front-runner in opinion polls.

Those two - as well as the six other contenders on stage - sniped at one another, contradicted allegations and interrupted questions from moderators to demand opportunities to take on each other.

Almost as soon as the debate began, Mr Perry and Mr Romney challenged each others' record creating jobs.

Mr Perry said that Michael Dukakis, a liberal predecessor of Mr Romney and former presidential candidate who is widely disparaged by Republicans, created jobs more quickly than Mr Romney.

Mr Romney responded that Mr Perry's predecessors in Texas - including former President George W Bush - created jobs more rapidly than Mr Perry had.

Mr Perry's front-runner status was clear from the barbs he took from other candidates. "I kind of feel like the pinata here at the party," he joked.

Without naming Mr Perry, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman challenged the Texas governor's scepticism on climate change and evolution.

"In order for the Republican Party to win, we can't run from science," said Mr Huntsman, Mr Obama's former ambassador to China who is running near the bottom of opinion polls.

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