Perry Takes On Romney in South Carolina

Perry Takes On Romney in South Carolina

By Erin McPike - September 5, 2011

CONWAY, S.C. -- Rick Perry took the fight to Mitt Romney directly here Monday, telling voters he has a better record on job creation.

Asked by a voter at a town-hall meeting what in his record makes him better than all the other Republicans running for president, Perry answered that no one in the field can hold a candle to him on job creation, given the number of jobs created in Texas during his governorship.

Then he targeted Romney, his chief rival in the nomination fight, with this: "There's going to be some that get up and say, 'Well, I created jobs.' And that's true. One in particular that's created jobs all over the world. But while he was the governor of Massachusetts he didn't create very many." Some in the audience laughed at the line.

A mostly older crowd flooded into the auditorium at the Horry Georgetown Technical College here for the question-and-answer session freshman GOP Rep. Tim Scott held for Perry. The crowd was peppered with Tea Party advocates who were enthusiastic about Perry, offering sustained cheers and applause as he discussed his background, as well as standing ovations upon his arrival and departure.

Perry didn't touch on policy during his remarks -- though he did answer lots of policy questions during the Q&A session --  favoring a rundown of his modest upbringing and coming of age in Texas to introduce himself to South Carolina's conservative GOP electorate.

Perry tried to set himself apart from Romney, who comes from a wealthy family, by striking a more populist chord. 

"We weren't rich in material things," Perry said of his early years, "but we were rich in faith and family, and that's my foundation."

Unlike Romney, Perry's level of intelligence has come under scrutiny after a Huffington Post report showed his college grades to be largely C's and D's.

"I tell my friends organic chemistry made a pilot out of me," he said to laughter. Perry's piloting days, of course, were in the armed services, allowing him to draw another key contrast with his top rivals, none of whom served in the military.

Romney has said his private-sector business experience sets him apart from Perry, and he has decried "career politicians," in part because Perry has spent the better part of three decades in office. Buttressed by Perry's defense that he spent 13 years as a small businessman when he worked his family's farm, the Texas governor turned his time in elective office into a positive.

"I've been trained and taught all my life that public service is an honorable thing," he said, noting that his father was a county commissioner, which helped spark his own interest. He told his audience that Americans should find a way to serve their country, whether by holding office, volunteering or joining the armed services.

Perry was scheduled to appear at a forum in Columbia, S.C., later Monday with other presidential contenders, including Romney, but he had to cancel to fly back to Texas and deal with a worsening outbreak of wildfires. On Wednesday, though, he will appear alongside Romney at a Simi Valley, Calif., debate hosted by NBC News and Politico. 

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

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