Elections 2012
Graphic: Emily Metcalf
Elections 2012
Graphic: Emily Metcalf

U.S. Republican presidential hopefuls will face off Monday night in their second debate in a week, as the 2012 election primary race takes shape.

Front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney will join six other Republican contenders in Florida for the CNN / Tea Party debate.

The event comes after the release of the latest poll numbers that confirm Perry’s popularity among Republican and independent voters. A CNN/ORC International Poll released Monday shows Perry in the lead with 30 percent, followed by Romney at 18 percent.

The candidates are expected to debate the public pension system Social Security, an important issue in Florida, which has the largest proportion of elderly voters in the United States. Many pollsters are predicting Florida will play a key role in both the Republican primary and next year’s general election. The state will also host the Republican National Convention next year.

Social Security became a main talking point last week when Perry called it a “ponzi scheme,” or investment fraud, during a debate in California. The program represents 41 percent of the income of elderly Americans.

Despite Perry’s comments, the CNN/ORC International Poll shows he is still favored by Republicans over 65 years of age by 46 percent, compared to Romney’s 21 percent.

Romney received some good news Monday, when former Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty announced his endorsement of the former Massachusetts governor.

But according to the CNN/ORC International poll, about three-fourths of voters just want a candidate who can beat President Barack Obama rather than one they agree with on every issue. Forty-two percent of those surveyed believe Perry is that candidate.

U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann, who had previously surged in the polls, saw her numbers drop from 10 percent to 4 percent, a major loss for the Tea Party favorite who last month won the Iowa Straw Poll, an unofficial, non-binding voting contest.

The latest poll put former Alaska governor Sarah Palin in third with 15 percent, although she has not announced her candidacy.

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