DES MOINES — Standing within sight of a fried-Twinkie stand, Rick Perry served up some of the political red meat and Texas twang that could make him a force in the GOP presidential race, telling the crowd gathered here at the Iowa State Fair that Washington is strangling the economy with too much taxation, regulation and litigation.
President Obama, Mr. Perry said, could learn a lesson from the small-government agenda he's pushed in Texas, an approach he claimed helped generate one of the healthiest job climates in the nation.
"Mr. President, you need to free up the employers of this country to create jobs, get rid of the regulations that are stifling jobs in America, free up this country from these stifling regulations," he said before winning loud applause for vowing to get rid of Mr. Obama's health care overhaul.
He drew chuckles for singling out a youngster sitting in the front row wearing bright orange NRA trucker cap and saying, "The Second Amendment allows me to go jogging with daughter's dog, and if a coyote jumps out, I can take care of it."
The appearance was part of his first full day of campaigning and of nipping at the heels of Rep. Michele Bachmann, who won this weekend's straw poll in Ames, Iowa, solidifying herself as the person to beat in the state's caucuses next year.
Mr. Obama, meanwhile, was in Minnesota and later Iowa, part of a three-day, three-state bus tour.
The 3-day-old Perry candidacy already has dramatically reshaped the Republican race, and the Texas governor will bring a potent mix of political strengths to next year's primary contests. An evangelical Christian and military veteran who embraces small-government principles, he offers a resume that could play well with conservatives and tea partyers alike.
"He has the benefit of being both a social and an economic conservative, so I think he has the ability to appeal across the board to a broad section of people," Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad said a few hours after sharing breakfast with Mr. Perry at the governor's mansion.
Dressed in a blue button-up shirt and khaki pants, the three-term Texas governor appeared to be more in his element at the iconic fair than his GOP rivals were when they visited last week.
With his wife, Anita, at his side, he moved effortlessly through the crowds, showing a common touch with farmers, women and toddlers alike, placing his hands on their shoulders and engaging in small talk. He shook the hands of several military veterans, rarely missing an opportunity to mention that he was an Air Force captain.
If he is elected, he told reporters, members of the armed services will respect him more than President Obama because of his military credentials.
"I think they would really like to see a person who wore a uniform in that office, and I think that's just a true statement," he said.
Over the course of a few hours, he scarfed down a pork chop, ate a couple boiled-eggs on a stick and bit into a corn dog, which he later learned was of the vegetarian sort.
"It doesn't make a difference what you're making it out of as long as it's grown on a farm," he said.
He spoke for about 15 minutes on an old-fashioned soapbox, then snaked his way through the crowds and held court for about an hour at the Iowa GOP's booth, posing for more photos and engaging in more small talk. Passers-by snapped pictures on camera phones and stood on their tiptoes to catch a glimpse of the day's big political attraction.
"He very well could be the next president," one man said.
On his way out of the building, Mr. Perry refused to answer a question about whether he was carrying a concealed handgun. "That's why its called concealed," he said, adding that he abides by state law. Asked whether he would resign as governor to concentrate on his presidential bid, he said, "I love the job I'm doing, I'm doing it quite well; why in the world would I want to do that?"
He also brushed aside comparisons to George W. Bush, his predecessor in Texas, saying their records are quite different, and "I went to Texas A&M. He went to Yale."
After he paid tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow, which is as it sounds, an older woman ran up to tell him, "I wanted to shake the hand of the next president."
He looked at her, grinned and said, "God willing."
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