All four Republican frontrunners - Perry, Romney, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Rep. Ron Paul - were at the Ronald Reagan Library. They may be on the same side, but right now, none of them seem to be getting along.
Perry and Romney each laid claim to a better job-creating record as governor.
"Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt," Perry jabbed, referring to Romney's predecessor as Democratic governor in Massachusetts.
"As a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessors created jobs at a faster rate than you did," Romney shot back at Perry, the newcomer to the race who has quickly laid claim to the front-runner's mantle.
For much of the evening, the two men were at the center of the action, largely reducing their rivals to the roles of spectators looking for a way into the action.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman sided with Perry when he turned to Romney and said, "47th just isn't going to cut it, my friend," a reference to the rank Massachusetts had among the 50 states in creating jobs during Romney's term.
But he also sought to rebut Perry's claim to be lead the country's top job-producing state.
"I hate to rain on the parade of the great Lone Star State governor, but as governor of Utah, we were the No. 1 job creator during my years in service," Huntsman said.
Also in the debate hosted by MSNBC and Politico were businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
The GOP contenders had little good to say about President Barack Obama, either his record on creating jobs or the health care law they have vowed to repeal if they win the White House
Social Security produced more sparks, when Perry said the program was a "Ponzi scheme" and added it was a lie to tell young workers they will ever receive the benefits they have been promised.
Perry was unrepentant, saying, "You cannot keep the status quo in place and call it anything other than a Ponzi scheme."
Strong words have served as a prelude to the debate.
Perry and Paul are both from Texas, but Paul just released an attack ad criticizing the Texas governor of once being a Democrat and working on Al Gore's 1988 presidential campaign.
Perry isn't taking the attack lightly. He may be dealing with raging wildfires in his state, but his camp quickly released a statement criticizing Paul for becoming a libertarian while Reagan was president.
"It will be interesting to hear Rep. Paul explain why Reagan drove him from the party on the grounds of the Reagan Library," the statement said.
Perry has also attacked Romney, criticizing his new 59-point jobs plan.
"As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney failed to create a pro-jobs environment," Perry said.
Romney, though, is instead focusing his attacks on President Barack Obama's jobs plan.
"President Obama's strategy is a pay-phone strategy, and we're in a smartphone world. What he's doing is taking quarters and stuffing them into the payphone," he said at a recent rally.
According to the latest ABC News poll, Perry and Romney are leading the pack. Bachmann, who was once right behind Romney, has now slipped down to 8 percent.
The debate is the first of three scheduled this month. Former first lady Nancy Reagan was in attendance to welcome the candidates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.