WATERLOO — Rick Perry can talk like an Iowan.
The Texas governor’s first comments to a media mob that surrounded him as he entered the Electric Park Ballroom in Waterloo were about the weather.
“I wish Texas was this way, but it was green all the way up here,” said Perry, who was making his first campaign appearance in Iowa. “It’s so dry out there in West Texas, it’s brutal. It’s having a really negative impact on the state.”
But he didn’t come to Waterloo — the hometown of rival Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota — to talk about the weather. Perry, who formally entered the race for the Republican nomination with campaign appearances in South Carolina and New Hampshire a day earlier, talked about jobs, jobs, jobs in a 15-minute speech at the Black Hawk County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner.
First, Perry explained why it took him so long to get into the presidential race. He said he met his future wife, Anita, when he was 8 years old, asked her out eight years later and married her 16 years later.
“This kind of goes to tell you that sometimes it takes me a while to get into some things,” he said. “But I’m in. I’m in all the way.”
Surrounded by media, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (right) visits with Cecelia and Jim Mudd of at the Black Hawk County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner Aug. 14 in Waterloo. It was Perry’s first visit to Iowa as a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination. Waterloo native Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum also attended the dinner. (James Q. Lynch/SourceMedia Group News)
It couldn’t happen too soon for Jim Mudd of Cedar Falls.
“We’ve longed for this moment when we would see him show up and stand up and be a candidate,” the advertising agency owner said. “We think he’s probably the strongest candidate to beat President (Barack) Obama.”
He thinks Perry’s strength comes from his background “as a real American coming up like most of us have from the streets or from poverty or what have you.”
“He’s a farmer and a farmer’s son,” Mudd said. “He’s got enormous charisma and a great record.”
Perry’s candidacy “really shakes up the race,” said Bob Haus, a longtime Republican strategist who’s leaning toward supporting Perry. “The candidates are all doing good work, hard work. But I think Rick Perry brings a breadth and depth of message no one else has.”
Perry’s message last night was that the “biggest issue facing this country is that we are in economic turmoil.”
“If we don’t have a president who gets this country working again, we are in trouble,” Perry said. “We need to be focused on jobs in this country. I have a track record.”
But the credit for that track record belongs to the man Perry wants to replace, according to Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“Rick Perry should thank President Obama for the recovery act, because many of the jobs that were created in Texas were thanks to his leadership in pushing and passing the recovery act and signing it into law,” she said after the straw poll Saturday.
Perry attributed his success to creating an environment where job creators are willing to risk their capital for fiscal restraint, lower taxes, a regulatory system that is predictable and certain, and tort reform to stop frivolous lawsuits.
“He’s proved himself,” Kent Johnston of Waterloo said after meeting Perry as the Texas governor worked the room, shaking hands and making small talk. “He’s been a governor of a big state and he’s done well.”
Although Perry made a good impression when he shook hands around the table where Donald Pohnl and Nancy Mashuda-Pohnl sat, the Solon couple split their straw poll votes between Bachmann and Herman Cain. They’re willing to consider Perry but need to know more.
“We need to feel him out on the issues which we think are important,” Nancy Mashuda-Pohnl said.
Bachmann, who spoke after Perry, thanked her Waterloo hometown for the effort put into helping her win the Iowa GOP Straw Poll a day earlier.
“I just wanted to come back and say thank you for what you’ve done,” she said, noting that it was just 50 days ago she announced her candidacy in her hometown.
To show her appreciation, Bachmann brought the “biggest, baddest, deepest” apple pie she could find to give to the oldest Republican mother in the room, 100-year-old Mary Canfield.
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum also addressed the crowd, focusing on those issues he believes propelled him to his fourth-place finish in the straw poll — the importance of traditional American values as they apply to ensuring limited government and the need to properly understand the 10th Amendment as it pertains to those values.
America needs to elect a president who has the record of results through proven leadership, Santorum said, referring to his experience in Congress. His support in the straw poll, Santorum said, “sent shock waves through the political establishment” and gives him momentum to compete in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses.
Perry’s choice to make his Iowa campaign debut in Waterloo cast a shadow over Bachmann’s success, said Steve Roberts a former Republican Party of Iowa chairman.
“She certainly didn’t get much time to savor her victory,” he said, predicting that Perry has the potential to do well in Iowa if he’s willing to commit to the traditional, face-to-face retail politics necessary to win the caucuses.
Perry apparently is intent on doing just that.
“I hear he already has a bus,” Roberts said.