Phoenix Tea Partiers participate in CNN GOP debate

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Attacked from all sides by fellow Republicans, Texas Gov. Rick Perry softened his rhetoric if not his position on Social Security in a crackling presidential campaign debate Monday night. He fended off assaults on his record creating jobs and requiring the vaccination of schoolgirls against a cancer-causing sexually transmitted virus.

Across a fractious two-hour debate before a boisterous tea party crowd, the front-runner in opinion polls gave little ground and frequently jabbed back, particularly at his chief rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Perry bristled only once, when Bachmann seemed to suggest a connection between his executive order on the vaccinations and campaign contributions he received in Texas. "I'm offended," he said, if she had questioned his integrity.

Social Security was a key issue.

"A program that's been there 70 or 80 years, obviously we're not going to take that away," Perry said in the debate's opening moments as Romney pressed him on his earlier statements questioning the constitutionality of Social Security and calling it a Ponzi scheme.

The Texas governor counter-attacked quickly, accusing Romney of "trying to scare seniors" with his own comments on a program that tens of millions of Americans -- including millions in the debate state of Florida alone -- rely on for part or all of their retirement income.

Immigration brought more criticism for Perry, who supports giving the children of illegal immigrants the same tuition breaks at state colleges and universities that other students receive.

"I'm proud we are having those individuals be contributing members of society," Perry said, adding that the policy was a state's rights issue.