Washington • Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman charged that rival Rick Perry's comment that it's difficult to secure the U.S.-Mexico border could be a "treasonous" remark.
"For Rick to say ya can't secure the border is pretty much a treasonous comment," Huntsman said at the CNN-tea party debate in Tampa, Fla., leveling the most sharply worded attack of his bid.
Perry shook his head as Huntsman threw out the "treasonous" remark but did not respond to it on stage. Huntsman paused after throwing out the line; some in the audience could be heard booing.
The former Utah governor's campaign later told The Tribune he was making a joke.
Huntsman's jab at Perry was a takeoff on the Texas governor's previous charge that if Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Benanke continued printing more currency during the financial crisis it would be "almost treasonous." Perry's campaign did not return a request for comment on Huntsman's attack line.
Huntsman, who has been struggling to bring his poll numbers out of the margin of error range, detoured from his "play nice" campaign effort and came out swinging against Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the two front-runners in the contest.
"I think we can spend all night talking about where Mitt's been on all the issues of the day, but that would take forever," Huntsman said. Romney also didn't respond to Huntsman's barb.
In his third debate appearance, Huntsman boasted of his job-creating record as Utah's governor and claimed that his rivals can't come close to his skills.
Utah was No. 1 in job creation under his leadership, the state was named the best managed in the union and the best climate for business, Huntsman declared.
"I'm the only person, Wolf, who can actually lay claim to that," Huntsman said, referring to debate host Wolf Blitzer of CNN.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Huntsman, Romney and Perry were all wrong about who creates jobs.
"In the four years I was speaker, I created the American people created more jobs in Utah than under Governor Huntsman, more jobs in Texas than Governor Perry and more jobs in Massachusetts than Governor Romney," Gingrich said.
Utah was named the best managed state and the best business climate, though the Pulitzer-winning site, PolitiFact, has rated Huntsman's claim of being first in jobs as "half-true." The site says that the Huntsman campaign is relying on numbers that the Bureau of Labor Statistics say aren't the most accurate and Utah was actually fourth, behind Wyoming, North Dakota and Texas.