(Eric Gay / Associated Press )
Reporting from Oskaloosa, Iowa — Rick Perry continued to barnstorm his way across Iowa on Wednesday, frenetically trying to locate some last-minute momentum that would keep his rollercoaster campaign on track.
After a morning breakfast near Des Moines, the Texas governor made three stops in small towns in southeastern Iowa, fine-tuning a message heavy on red-meat appeals for controlling immigration and capping government spending.
As he has throughout his fourth-quarter Iowa effort, Perry cast himself as a figure outside the East Coast establishment, implicitly slapping rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich without naming them as co-opted insiders. “Why would you settle for anything less than an authentic conservative?” he told the crowds, which numbered in the hundreds at each stop.
He also tried to dent Ron Paul for his stance on Iran, pledging that as president he would not allow the country “to arm themselves with a nuclear missile.”
For the second day in a row, Perry campaigned shoulder-to-shoulder with Joe Arpaio, the tough-talking Arizona sheriff who was recently accused by the Justice Department of civil rights abuses. But the move seemed to pay dividends as Arpaio was every bit the celebrity Perry is at each stop.
Perry is trying to elbow his way into a top-three finish in the GOP caucuses set for next Tuesday. His task seemed further complicated by a Time-CNN poll out Wednesday that showed Rick Santorum gaining steam in the state.
Unlike a day earlier, when Perry unexpectedly told a crowd that he had refined his stance on abortion, his remarks contained no surprises. He did unveil a new talking point: blasting President Obama for failing to hold a parade for service members following the end of the U.S. military campaign in Iraq.
Much of his message involved his experience as the governor of a state that borders Mexico. “You can’t have homeland security without border security,” he said.
He continually flashed a folksier, warmer, more countrified persona than he has been able to show in the national debates that had so damaged his campaign, speaking the language of the farm, talking about his father’s service in World War II, referencing the Bible. But he ran into the same problems that have undercut his entire presidential effort.
At a stop in Pella, Iowa, Perry momentarily confused NATO with the United Nations before correcting himself. Earlier, in Indianola, he poked fun at his infamous debate moments when a women in the audience said she couldn’t remember the question she wanted to ask him.
“I’ve had that problem from time to time,” he said as the crowd laughed.
For the most part, Perry found a welcoming reception — and some in the audience reacted in particular to his proposal to turn Congress into a part-time legislative body. Consistently, that suggestion spurred the most applause.
“Cut their pay, cut their staffs, cut the time they spend in Washington, D.C.,” he said in Indianola.
He won over at least one undecided voter in that crowd. Doralyn Underberg, 66, of Clive, Iowa, had been leaning toward Gingrich but said she had settled on Perry after seeing him live.
“I think he’s better in person than he was on TV,” she said.