Reporting from Council Bluffs, Iowa — Rick Perry, trying to crawl his way back into presidential contention, began barnstorming Iowa on Wednesday, urging voters to reconsider his candidacy.
“We need your help. I hope some of you are taking a second look and saying, ‘You know what, this guy does in fact lay out the plan to get this country working again,’ ” Perry told about 70 people gathered at Bayliss Park Hall, a Victorian mansion turned event center here. “He does have the record as an executive chief officer for 11 years in a state moving forward on the job creation front. He embodies the values, he understands freedom's not free, that it does come at a cost.’ With your help, the courage of the American people, we’re going to get this country working again.”
Much is riding on the next 20 days for the Texas governor. He entered the race enormously popular and riding high in the polls, but a series of poor debate performances and other flubs have caused his candidacy to plummet, attracting single-digits in most recent polls. He is now more likely to be mentioned as a punch line on "Saturday Night Live" than the likely GOP nominee to take on President Obama next year.
Political observers say his only chance of doing well in the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Jan. 3 is if he works the ground hard, greeting voters and changing minds. And Wednesday was the first day of a 14-day, 44-event bus tour that will take him to all corners of the state.
The first event of the day raised questions about how effective the tour would be. Though it was billed as a town hall, Perry spoke less than 20 minutes and took no questions from voters--a hallmark of campaign appearances in Iowa--or the media. Many of the people in attendance were long-time supporters, not the undecided voters Perry must sway.
In his remarks, as he has in television ads and mailers, Perry emphasized his faith in a direct appeal to the socially conservative religious voters who can have an outsized role in the caucuses.
“This president has not only had a war on our economy, this president has also had a war on our values,” Perry said, arguing that the administration has stopped funding for Catholic charities because they wouldn’t perform abortions and is trying to change the law so that a religious organization could not have the discretion to hire or fire people based on their faith.
“That is a war on religion, and Americans are not going to accept this assault on their values anymore,” he said.
Perry also castigated the front-runners for the Republican nomination, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, though not by name. He argued that politicians and financiers were responsible for the nation’s economic crisis.
“Let me tell you, changing one Washington insider for another Washington insider is not going to change a thing. Taking a Wall Streeter and sending them to Washington, D.C., is not going to change a thing,” Perry said. “What this country has got to have is an outsider, an outsider who is willing to go in there and have the courage and vision, the stamina and strength to change Washington, D.C.”
Perry outlined his proposals--creating an optional 20% flat income tax, repealing Obama’s healthcare law, making Congress part-time, adding a balanced budget amendment to the constitution, and vetoing all earmarks.
The crowd was particularly moved by a veteran who had been badly injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq as he spoke on Perry’s behalf.
“When did we stop being told that we were exceptional? When did people start telling us we were just like everybody else,” asked Dan Moran, 30, who received third-degree burns over half of his body. “We’re not. That flag right there means something, our values, they’re not just words, we live them every day. There’s no doubt in my mind that Rick Perry will be best commander in chief for this nation.”