GOP primary now a contest of character

NEW YORK (AP) — The Republican presidential race has become a no-holds-barred contest over character.

With the pace of the GOP contest quickening, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are resorting to tough language online and campaigning to undermine each other’s credibility and values.

“It’s time for you to tell the truth,” Perry said during last week’s Republican debate, all but calling the former Massachusetts governor a liar.

The Texas governor also is trying to cast Romney as someone who lacks a core set of beliefs, highlighting Romney’s shifts on health care and other issues in hopes of dislodging him from atop the field.

Romney is portraying Perry as a dimwitted novice who coddles illegal immigrants and takes liberties with his economic record.

“The great challenges we have we will overcome,” Romney said in South Dakota recently, “if we have leaders that will tell the truth, and live with integrity, and who, by virtue of their life experience, know how to lead.” It was a suggestion that Perry didn’t fit that bill.

The amped-up rhetoric signals a more aggressive phase in the race and sets the tone in the 10 weeks before the nominating contest begins in Iowa in early January. It also illuminates campaign strategies and previews likely attack ads sure to surface on television soon.

But it raised concerns among some Republicans, who fear a drawn-out personal battle between their top contenders will only help President Barack Obama’s chances of winning next year.

“I don’t like that, I’m not for that. I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican, he didn’t think it was smart to attack each other and I don’t either,” oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens told Fox News last week after Romney and Perry got in each other’s faces during the most recent debate.

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