Mike Carlson, FILE, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, shakes hands with Texas Gov. Rick Perry before the start of a Republican debate Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Tampa, Fla.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney went after Texas Gov. Rick Perry in an exclusive interview with USA Today published online in two parts late last night.

"What I would say is that my life experience has been in the private sector and has been in turning things around that are in trouble, whether that was a business or the Olympics or in a state. My job has been turning around enterprises that were in trouble," said Romney, according to the part of the USA Today interview the paper published on its front page today. "Gov. Perry came into a state that was doing just fine."

If Americans want "someone to go along with what's already in place, I'm sure that Gov. Perry is fine. If Americans think America needs a turnaround to make our economy globally competitive again and to create jobs, then I think I'm the better choice."

These statements from Romney reflect similar views expressed during the first debate in which Romney and Perry locked horns.

The second part of the interview is published in Q&A form and covers topics that include President Obama ("excessively partisan"), Sarah Palin ("I hope she gets in") and polls ("You don't worry about the outcome.")

The statements about Perry highlight a more aggressive version of Romney, say pundits.

"An assertive Mitt Romney has emerged in the GOP presidential race," wrote the Huffington Post after the Reagan Library GOP debate earlier this month. "The former Massachusetts governor has shown little willingness to assail his Republican competitors over the past few months, focusing all of his criticism on President Barack Obama. But in one night, Romney became the most prominent aggressor in a growing effort by the GOP field to derail front-runner Rick Perry."

The new "assertive" Romney seems to be working according to the polls. Romney gained 5 points in New Hampshire since June, opening up a 27-point lead over his closest contender, Ron Paul (14 percent) — indeed, Romney currently occupies 41 percent of the vote according to the Suffolk University/7NEWS poll released yesterday.

And though Romney still trails Perry in national polls, according to the Gallup/USA Today poll released earlier this week, Romney has made considerable gains on his opponent from just a month ago. After Perry initially jumped in the race, Romney was polling at 12 percent. Now he still lags behind Perry (31 percent), but with a much more formidable 24 percent of the vote. He also, according to the poll, beats Obama in a head-to-head contest, something Perry cannot claim.

The newest poll results and USA Today interview come as the candidates are preparing to face off for during tonight's debate sponsored by Fox News in Orlando, Fla. The debate will be broadcast on Fox, beginning at 7 p.m.

EMAIL: hboyd@desnews.com