Off to a Rousing Start in Iowa, Perry Takes Aim at Rivals

Off to a Rousing Start in Iowa, Perry Takes Aim at Rivals

By Erin McPike - August 15, 2011

WATERLOO, Iowa -- Just a day after joining the 2012 presidential race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry arrived here and started drawing subtle contrasts, most of them biographical and stylistic, with his top rivals for the Republican presidential nomination.

He stormed into Waterloo’s Electric Park Ballroom on Sunday night to commence his first trip to the Hawkeye State since acknowledging in May his interest in a White House bid. And he delivered a jolt of energy that matched his sizable entourage -- the largest of any of the candidates in the field -- in what should serve as a warning shot to Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, who have been leading the pack of GOP contenders.

Bachmann had just won the symbolic Iowa Straw Poll in Ames the day before, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum turned in a surprisingly strong fourth-place finish in the critical test of activist strength. Both socially conservative candidates secured last-minute speaking slots here Sunday for the Black Hawk County Lincoln Day Dinner, but it was Perry, the evening’s original headliner, who sucked up all the oxygen in the room and received the most enthusiastic reception from the hundreds of attendees.

One thing that distinguishes Perry from the rest of the field, for instance, is his military service in the 1970s, when he flew C-130 planes as a captain in the Air Force; other than Ron Paul, who was a flight surgeon in the Air Force, no other candidate in the race can boast military service. He used that particular credential to drive home his message about the economy, noting the country needs better financial health to support its military, an issue he’s passionate about, in part thanks to his past.

“One of the reasons -- one of the powerful reasons -- that I’m running for the presidency of the United States is to make sure that every young man and woman who puts on the uniform of this country respects highly the president of the United States,” he said to thunderous applause.

“You cannot have a strong military,” he noted moments later, “if you do not have the economics first to pay for that military.”

The two top issues in the election, he told voters, are jobs and debt, which Romney, too, hammers on the campaign trail. But while Romney tells voters repeatedly how much he knows about the economy from working 25 years in the private sector (and spends little time talking about his record as governor of Massachusetts), Perry weaved together his vision for the nation’s economy by tying it to his accomplishments in Texas.

“We’ve had the most sweeping tort reform in the nation,” he said, asserting that as a result of the law passed in 2003, there are 20,000 more physicians in Texas. He spoke of cutting taxes and sparking the best job growth of any state in the nation.

And instead of blasting President Obama in the ways his competitors have, Perry chose his words carefully, explaining that he’s not angry but indignant about the federal government.

(Romney has politely asked voters at his events to read his book, “No Apology: Believe in America,” when voters ask him detailed questions about certain issues within the federal government. Perry asked one of his questioners if he had read his book, “Fed Up!” and then commanded, over laughter, “Get a copy of it and read it.”)

For Perry, a commitment to the 10th Amendment -- which grants to states those powers that are not expressly given to the federal government -- is among his chief talking points. But when Santorum spoke earlier in the program, he needled Perry on the issue without calling him out by name.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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