THE VILLAGES, Fla. -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney warned senior citizens Tuesday to beware of turning Social Security into a "Perry scheme."
Romney took his latest swipe at one of his opponents, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, while campaigning at one of Florida's largest senior citizen communities, where many residents rely on the federal program.
In a book published last year, Perry argued that the retirement safety net violated states' rights, and he suggested that the program had problems from its inception in the 1930s. Perry says he doesn't want to change the program for older Americans, but he calls Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" because funding problems will mean younger Americans won't receive benefits they are paying for now.
Any talk of cutting Social Security benefits comes with political risk – something that Romney was acutely aware of Tuesday while talking to several hundred senior citizens at The Villages, a suburban community north of Orlando.
"I think Social Security has worked pretty darned well. I think the problem is keeping it from becoming a Perry scheme."
The former Massachusetts governor said Social Security should be preserved for future generations and any shortcomings should be solved by whoever is elected president in 2012.
"Social Security is not going to change for anyone in this room," the former Massachusetts governor reassured the audience.
The crowd of elderly retirees was enthusiastic about Romney's appearance and applauded him several times.
Area donors have also been generous to Romney; workers for The Villages were the largest source of GOP contributions from a single Florida employer, handing $67,500 to Romney.
And one of Romney's largest sources of donations came from a ZIP code in The Villages, where donors gave $73,000, according to campaign finance reports through June.
Florida Democrats were quick to criticize Romney. Three hours before his event, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman and chair of the Democratic National Committee, spoke to reporters on a conference call and said Romney was in favor of "dismantling" Social Security and letting people invest retirement funds in the stock market.
"Mitt Romney would have you believe this is a government handout," Wasserman Schultz said. "Mitt Romney would rather carry water for the tea party and leave seniors to fend for themselves in the private market."