RICHMOND — Texas Gov. Rick Perry used much of his keynote speech at a Republican fundraiser Wednesday to attack the policies of President Obama, firing up the party faithful who turned out for a glimpse of the GOP presidential front-runner.
"Our people reject the idea of a Western European caretaker state," he said to roaring applause, saying that the first thing he would do when he walked into the Oval Office would be to sign an executive order to "wipe out as much of Obamacare as I can," referring to Mr. Obama's health care overhaul.
"This campaign is about freedom," he told a crowd of more than 1,000 people at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. "You can't live free when the federal government takes over one-sixth of the economy."
Mr. Perry's address followed an appearance Wednesday morning in Lynchburg at Liberty University. The conservative Christian school founded by the now-deceased Jerry Falwell is a common stop for Republican candidates running for office, and Mr. Perry largely avoided controversial topics such as Social Security and immigration that have dogged him in recent days, instead focusing his comments on education and faith.
Richmond, however, was a different story.
Mr. Perry repeatedly sought to cast the results of Tuesday's special elections in New York and Nevada as a referendum on the national mood, though Democrats have tried to pour cold water on that line of thinking. He reminded those in the crowd that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's 2009 victory and that of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie preceded a Republican wave in 2010 in which the GOP retook the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Just as the election of Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie in 2009 signaled historic victories for ... 2010, last night's election results in New York and Nevada sent signals that President Obama would be a one-term president," he said.
In an upset victory in New York, Republican Bob Turner defeated Democrat David Weprin in the race for the seat of disgraced former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner. No Republican has held the 9th District seat since 1923. In Nevada, Republican Mark Amodei defeated Democrat Kate Marshall in the state's 2nd Congressional District, which has never elected a Democrat.
Mr. McDonnell introduced Mr. Perry to the crowd, continuing their friendly banter about the economic successes of their respective states.
"Let me welcome you to the most business-friendly state in America - the commonwealth of Virginia," Mr. McDonnell said.
Virginia Republicans insist that they are focused on fall legislative elections, in which they hope to retake control of the Senate and strengthen their majority in the House of Delegates. But with Mr. Perry's rhetorical assault on the president and his policies, 2012 was undoubtedly on the minds of many in the audience who paid a minimum $55 per seat for tickets to the event.
Former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III said that Mr. Perry certainly could carry a state like Virginia, noting that "it should be Republican anyway."
"I think that a lot will depend on the state of Obama's situation next year," Mr. Gilmore told The Washington Times. "If the people ... have simply concluded that the economics of the country are not adequate, then they make a change ... and that will be the Republican candidate."
Virginia Democrats, meanwhile, rushed to tie state Republicans to Mr. Perry's controversial comments describing Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme."
In a statement issued shortly before Mr. Perry's appearance, state party leaders called on Republicans to "stop thinking so much about creating opportunity for themselves and devote their focus to protecting and strengthening investments like Social Security that create opportunity for working families."
In 2008, Mr. Obama became the first Democrat since 1964 to carry Virginia, but with a sputtering economy and the threat of a double-dip recession, his approval ratings have been hovering in the mid-40s.
Since entering the race, Mr. Perry has immediately shot to the top of national GOP presidential polls. A poll released Wednesday by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling firm put him in front with 31 percent of the vote. His closest rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, took 18 percent.
Despite the bombast during his address, Mr. Perry twice sidestepped questions after the event about comments made by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, that money for disaster relief should be offset with federal spending cuts.
"I think we need to look at our budget from top to bottom," Mr. Perry said. "In a ... $3-plus trillion budget, if we can't find the monies to take care of our natural disasters, we're not paying attention."
Several orange "Perry/McDonnell 2012" pins were sprinkled throughout the crowd, but when asked about Mr. McDonnell as a potential running mate after his remarks, Mr. Perry brushed the question aside, replying, "That is thinking too far ahead."
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