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Perry keeping Santorum squarely in his sights

December 31, 2011|By Paul West
  • Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Rick Perry chat following the Fox News Channel debate at the Sioux City Convention Center.
Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Rick Perry chat… (Scott Olson / Getty Images )

Reporting from Fort Dodge, Iowa — Rick Perry launched his final weekend push ahead of Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses with the candidate immediately ahead of him in the polls—Rick Santorum—very much in his sights.

Perry needs to peel away enough supporters from Santorum, other candidates or the dwindling bloc of undecided voters to edge into third place.  He’s currently running fourth, according to the latest polling, a showing that could effectively doom his chances of a comeback after falling out of the lead months ago.

Mitt Romney, in the top Iowa tier with Ron Paul, is hoping for a one-two punch by winning next week's caucuses and the New Hampshire primary seven days later, something no Republican presidential candidate has done, other than an incumbent.  

Speaking to about 75 people at Boomers coffee house in Fort Dodge, Perry made Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, the main target of his attacks.

Reading from notes, the Texas governor repeated charges that his negative campaign ads are employing against Santorum – blasting his votes for earmarked spending, raising the federal debt ceiling during his years in the Senate and the Medicare drug benefit that President George W. Bush signed into law.

“That’s about fleecing the American public,” said Perry.  “You don’t have to settle for someone” who’s “not going to change Washington, D.C.’s culture.... You don’t have to tie your hopes to Washington insiders.”

Inflating Santorum's influence for the purpose of knocking him down, Perry accused Santorum of enabling a larger rise in the federal debt "on his watch" than President Obama has during his term.

 “Are you better off than you were $4 trillion ago?,”  Perry asked, in a twist on Ronald Reagan's famous 1980 campaign line against President Jimmy Carter.

Perry, who has admitted that back pain impeded his campaign efforts, leaned against the brick wall behind his podium after delivering a brief stump speech, then took a seat to answer voter questions.

“Sen. Santorum is a good man.  He’s got a great family,” said Perry, who is toting his own family aboard his campaign bus as it rolls through north central Iowa.  “But we do have differences.”

“If you want to truly overhaul” Washington, said Perry, “we can’t do that with a senator who has voted to raise the debt ceiling eight different times.”

Touting his outsider credentials, Perry said he’s “gotta ask Rick:…What was so important that it compelled you to add great debt” to the next generation’s “credit card?"

Perry was introduced by his wife, Anita, who said her New Year’s resolution will be “to do everything I can to help get a true leader, a conservative leader, elected to the presidency”—my husband."

Paul.west@latimes.com

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