Texas Gov. and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry speaks at a campaign… (Matthew Cavanaugh, Getty…)
Reporting from Greenland, N.H. — All eyes were supposed to be on Iowa's straw poll Saturday, but it was Texas Gov. Rick Perry who stole the show — jetting from the official announcement of his Republican presidential run in South Carolina to an intimate house party in New Hampshire where he said he felt "right at home."
Arriving in a caravan of black and silver SUVs in a quiet neighborhood on New Hampshire's seacoast, Perry eschewed the state's informality and showed up in a suit — though no cowboy boots — greeting about 150 guests on the back porch of state Rep. Pam Tucker's house with a big wave and "Hi y'all."
Perry's visit was symbolic — a nod to New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. But Perry's point in coming here for a quick stop before he heads to Iowa was that he planned to compete "for every vote in every state," he said.
Before entertaining questions from his guests — but not reporters — Perry said New Hampshire's state motto, "Live Free or Die," reminded him of Texas Col. William Barret Travis' 1836 letter from the Alamo when he wrote: "Victory or Death."
"You can't live free knowing your children are going to inherit a mountain of debt," Perry said. "You can't live free if you don't have the dignity of having a job or income to take care of your family."
Perry reprised lines from his speech earlier in the day in South Carolina as he put his economic record in Texas up against President Obama's. He spoke soberly of the recent downgrade of the nation's credit rating as a "sad day in our history." His economic philosophy, he said, would be guided by principles such as "don't spend all the money" and keep the tax burden "as light as possible on job creators."
Without mentioning that the nation's economic slump began under President George W. Bush, Perry blamed the nation's troubles squarely on Obama. "Mr. President, you can't win the future by selling it off to foreign creditors," he said.
There was palpable excitement among the guests who spread out across the Tuckers' back lawn, sipping wine and beer.
Realtor Terry Stewart-Bouchard described herself as one of the many people "out there who has been on the fence," but said she was ready to work on Perry's campaign. "I was so excited. I couldn't wait to get up here tonight," she said.
"Usually I know right from the beginning. This time I was sitting and I was waiting. I was waiting for Gov. Perry. He's got the fire in the belly."
But her husband, David Bouchard, 42, a former state representative who switched his registration recently from Republican to independent, said he wasn't sure.
He said he was skeptical about Perry's job-growth numbers and had questions about his record on illegal immigration.
Texas, he said, "is a very unique state that has a lot problems, and to be honest, I haven't heard the answers because I haven't heard him."
Some of Perry's detractors and Democratic groups were already trying to draw parallels between Perry and Bush. As much as Bouchard said they were unfair, he acknowledged that it could be a major vulnerability in a year when he's looking for the candidate who can beat Obama.
As he listened to Perry's speech in South Carolina, "I saw a bit of the swagger. … The image, the persona is there," Bouchard said. But he said he intended to dig deeper and hoped other voters would do the same.