Republican presidential hopeful Texas Gov. Rick Perry visits with Leah Adams of Iowa City, co-chairwoman of the Johnson County Republican Women, before speaking at the Johnson County GOP Fall BBQ at Clear Creek-Amana High School, Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, in Tiffin, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
TIFFIN – Coming off less-than-impressive performances in recent debates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry seemed to redeem himself Oct. 7 in front of a crowd of more than 300 Republicans looking for a winner to back in the Iowa precinct caucuses.
Perry wooed the crowd, complimenting Iowans on their prominent role in choosing the party’s nominee, and promised that as president he would make putting Americans back to work his “one overpowering mission.”
Perry raced to the front of the GOP after getting into the race less than two months ago. However, he stumbled in recent nationally-televised debates, admitting after one he performed badly because he was tired.
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His audience Friday night was willing to look beyond those debates.
“He hasn’t been quite as good as some,” acknowledged Rick Walters, an Iowa City Democrat who recently switched his registration to the GOP, “But we’ve got a debater in the White House and look where it’s gotten us.”
Royce Phillps, mayor of Tiffin and a former Johnson County Republican Central Committee member, thinks Iowa Republicans will look beyond the debates and judge Perry on his overall performance.
If they do, Phillips said, Perry will win the nomination over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney “and if unemployment next year is anywhere as high as it is now, Perry beats (President) Obama.”
Perry found that outlook encouraging, saying he’s been reminded “pundits don’t choose presidents. The people of Iowa do.”
“I happen to believe Iowa voters are plenty smart,” Perry said. “They look at the record. Not just the rhetoric.”
They’re “not looking for the most polished candidate,” h said. “They’re looking for the most principled candidate. They’re looking for authentic, they’re looking for principled, they’re looking for someone to look them in the eye and say ‘Here’s the problem.’
The problem, as Perry sees it, is “monumental debt,” over-taxation and over-regulation.
The solution is a president “who gets up every day and walks into that Oval Office with one, overpowering mission … getting this country back working again. That ought to be the No. 1 job of the president of the United States.”
Perry, whose position on immigration issues has put him at odds with other GOP candidates, emphasized his experience with border security.
“I live it every day,” he said, adding that Texas has spent $400 million of state dollars on border security. Still, he said, there are places where the United States has lost operational control to Mexican drug cartels.
He joked that when President Obama came to Texas and said the border was more secure than ever, “I thought he was on the Canadian border.”
“We need a president who will not just talk about it, but secure that border with boots on the ground.”
Whether it was his record or rhetoric, the crowd was enthusiastic in its response to Perry, who spoke for about 25 minutes and took a few questions.
Sam Spencer of Cedar Rapids asked how Perry would deal with Democrats who control the Senate. Although he thought the governor stumbled a few times in his remarks, Spencer was generally satisfied with Perry’s message.
“His problems seem to be more with style than substance,” Spencer said, “which I hope is the more important concern.”
Second District GOP Central Committee Woman Trudy Caviness of Ottumwa agreed that Perry had repaired his image.
“People seemed to enjoy what he had to say,” Caviness said.
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