Campaigning in Iowa, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was critical of two main rivals… (Jim Young, Reuters )
Reporting from Plymouth, N.H., and Des Moines — Rick Perry opened an aggressive new front in the Republican campaign for president Monday, suggesting that Mitt Romney could not match his record on job creation and questioning whether Michele Bachmann had the experience to be president. Romney sought to stay above the fray in New Hampshire but touted his "real world" experience in the private sector as a key credential for the White House.
The crossfire between the Texas governor and his chief rivals came as the three top-tier candidates fanned out across the early caucus and primary states — with Perry in Iowa, Romney in New Hampshire and Bachmann preparing for a bus tour in South Carolina.
Perry stepped out among fawning crowds at the Iowa State Fair after his campaign released a video that declared him "America's jobs governor" and spliced images of a tumbling stock market with a Texas sunrise and old images of Perry reaching for his saddle in a cowboy hat and chaps.
Asked by reporters about the credentials of his rivals as he made his way through the fair, Perry alluded to minimal job growth in Massachusetts when Romney was governor.
"You just have to look at the record," the Texas governor said.
Perry noted that he had worked in business before entering politics in the mid-1980s and seemed to slight Romney's work at a private equity firm. "I was in the private sector for 13 years after I left the Air Force, so I wasn't on Wall Street, I wasn't working at Bain Capital," Perry said.
When asked about Bachmann, who has represented Minnesota in Congress since 2006 after a career as a tax attorney and stay-at-home mom, Perry replied that "10 years of being an executive running a state the size of Texas matters."
"It's pretty hard to argue we haven't created a job-creating machine in the state of Texas, and I think that's what people are looking for," Perry said. "They're just looking for executive experience and somebody who will tell it like it is."
Romney, who has tried to avoid engaging with Republican opponents as he seeks to cement his standing as the GOP front-runner, sidestepped questions about whether Perry deserves credit for Texas' economic successes. But Romney took a subtle dig at Perry's long tenure in government by repeatedly emphasizing his own private-sector experience in private equity and consulting.
"My jobs record spans not just four years as governor, but also the 25 years that I've lived in the private sector," he said when asked about Perry's record at a manufacturer in Litchfield, N.H. "Understanding how the economy works by having worked in the real economy is finally essential in the White House."
Though Romney avoided dissecting Perry's record on job creation — Perry often states that more than 40% of the nation's jobs have been created in Texas since 2009 — that task was already being handled by Democratic groups, who have noted that recent job growth in Texas was fueled in part by the state's oil sector, higher gas prices, military spending and public-sector job growth.
Romney also directed his fire at President Obama, mocking the president's bus tour through the upper Midwest as well as his upcoming vacation to Martha's Vineyard.
"He seems to be more intent on trying to save his job than trying to create jobs for the American people," Romney said.
Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Melanie N. Roussell said Romney's remarks were part of an "extreme" approach by Republican candidates. "The Republican Party is offering the same tired rhetoric that the American people are sick of," she said.
Reston reported from Plymouth and Mehta from Des Moines.