Rick Perry‘s provocative views about Social Security — he’s described it as “a failure” and a “monstrous lie” to younger Americans — have gotten the attention of Republicans in Florida looking at the Texas governor as a potential presidential nominee, writes Paul West of LA Times.
In a state with the largest proportion of elderly voters — 1 in 3 GOP primary voters is 65 or older, many of them living on fixed incomes — Social Security is a perennial concern. Traditionally, a candidate espousing Perry’s views wouldn’t stand a chance.
Some still believe he doesn’t, citing polls that repeatedly demonstrate support for the federal program and a reluctance to side with politicians who seek to drastically change it. Fellow GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney appeared to have those numbers in mind last week when he criticized Perry as a sure general election loser because of his Social Security stance.
One well-connected Florida Republican strategist, speaking anonymously to preserve relations with the candidates, predicted: “If Perry doesn’t correct the way he’s talking about Social Security, he’s toast.” The governor will get an opportunity Monday night, when he and seven other GOP contenders meet in a CNN/Tea Party Express debate inTampa.
But Perry’s odds could be improved by two circumstances. For one, he is the candidate of the moment; Republican voters have propelled the blunt-spoken Texan to the top of the polls, and his tough language on Social Security only confirms his anti-establishment demeanor.
Perhaps more importantly, the program’s funding problems may be changing the way politicians and voters are confronting a once untouchable topic: overhauling the system.
In his 2010 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in Florida, Republican Marco Rubio proposed raising the Social Security retirement age for younger workers and “people thought the world had ended,” said Alberto Martinez, then his campaign spokesman.
But Rubio survived the predictable criticism — including attack ads from an opponent promising to “protect Social Security” — and won election as one of the first “tea party”senators.
“Candidates need to be careful about how they approach the issue,” Martinez said. “The ones who will be successful are those who offer honest solutions. People want to hear the truth. They know Social Security and Medicare are going bankrupt.”
That was the view among a quartet of Social Security recipients who meet daily for lunch at the West Tampa Sandwich Shop. None quibbled with Perry’s description of Social Security, in last week’s presidential debate, as “a Ponzi scheme.”
“It was a Ponzi scheme from day one,” said retired firefighter and registered Democrat Ernie Carrera, 81, sipping a tropical fruit milkshake. “People can see that the money’s not coming in compared to what is going out.”
Continue reading West’s story here.