Rick Perry addresses a crowd at a coffeehouse in Creston, Iowa. (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)
Reporting from Osceola, Iowa — Rick Perry, in the midst of a furious late-stage effort to finish strongly in next week’s GOP Iowa caucuses, said at a town-hall-style campaign event here that his views on abortion has shifted and that he now believes the procedure is unacceptable in all circumstances.
Assuredly, the Texas governor has never been a moderate on the issue. But until recently, he had said an abortion might be justifiable in cases of rape or incest or if the mother’s life was in danger.
Tuesday, in the last leg of a four-stop bus trip across southwestern Iowa, Perry was asked a question by a local pastor about his abortion views, noting that the candidate had recently signed a pledge to oppose abortion in every situation and asking whether he had changed his mind.
Perry replied that he had. “You’re seeing a transformation,” he said. Recently watching an antiabortion film had persuaded him to alter his view, he said.
The transformation, such as it is, comes at a particularly opportune time. With a week to go until the Jan. 3 caucuses, Perry is trying to court the social conservatives here who have yet to coalesce around a single candidate as they did for Mike Huckabee four years ago. And Perry has watched as Rick Santorum, an unyielding opponent of abortion rights, has picked up endorsements in the last week from key evangelical leaders in the state.
But the pastor who asked Perry the question, Joshua Verwers, said he believed Perry was sincere. “It was the perfect answer,” said Verwers, who said he had been concerned that the Texan was attempting to pander to evangelical voters.
Perry watched the DVD “The Gift of Life” on his campaign bus last week, aides said. The film, which features Huckabee and profiles those who say they were nearly aborted by their mothers, was produced by David Bossie, the conservative activist behind the Citizens United challenge that the Supreme Court upheld last year, changing the landscape of campaign finance law.
Perry, who has been saturating the airwaves with ads, spent Tuesday talking tough on another issue: immigration. He campaigned with Joe Arpaio, the Phoenix-area sheriff accused by the Justice Department of abusing the civil rights of Latinos.
At an earlier stop in Creston, Iowa, Perry called Arpaio a “great American.”
“They’re zeroing in on me in all directions,” Arpaio said.
His presence appeared to be a bid by Perry to shore up a perceived weakness. His campaign began to go south almost as soon as it began in August partly because of questions from some conservatives over a Texas law that allows children of illegal immigrants to benefit from in-state tuition rates. Perry faced questions about the plan again Tuesday.
And while Perry was touring Iowa, his campaign filed suit in federal court in Virginia challenging that state’s decision to keep him off its primary ballot for failing to comply with the strict requirements for signatures. Newt Gingrich also failed to make the ballot.
"We believe that the Virginia provisions unconstitutionally restrict the rights of candidates and voters by severely restricting access to the ballot, and we hope to have those provisions overturned or modified to provide greater ballot access to Virginia voters and the candidates seeking to earn their support," Perry’s communications director, Ray Sullivan, said in a statement.
Perry spent the day largely avoiding taking shots at his rivals for the GOP nomination and never mentioned any by name. But he implicitly labeled Mitt Romney a “Wall Street insider” and a wayward conservative.
“You shouldn’t have to accept anything other than an authentic conservative,” he told the crowd in Creston.