- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 30, 2011

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney castigated “career politicians” Tuesday as he tried to distinguish himself from chief rival Rick Perry while on the governor’s home turf in Texas.

“I am a conservative businessman. I spent most of my life outside of politics, dealing with real problems in the real economy,” Romney said told the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention in San Antonio. “Career politicians got us into this mess and they simply don’t know how to get us out.”

Romney didn’t mention Perry by name during the speech, which comes as national polls show Perry with more support than Romney, who for months has led the pack seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

Even so, the contrast Romney is seeking to draw is clear. He was a businessman who founded a venture capital firm and headed the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City before serving a single term as Massachusetts governor. Perry is Texas’ longest-serving governor and has been an elected public official for 27 years, having served as lieutenant governor, agricultural commissioner and a state representative before becoming governor in 2000.

Tuesday’s remarks provide strong clues about Romney’s strategy for trying to derail Perry, who jolted the race earlier this month by formally becoming a candidate. At a time when the electorate is suffering economically and has shown a willingness to embrace outsiders, Romney is trying to cast Perry as just another politician on the inside who doesn’t understand how to create jobs. He doesn’t mention that Texas added tens of thousands of jobs on Perry’s watch, though critics question how much credit the governor can claim.

At the same time, Romney is seeking to paint himself as the outsider — even though he’s essentially been running for president since 2006. He lost the GOP nomination to John McCain in 2008 and spent the next couple years quietly laying the groundwork for a second bid and working to elect fellow Republicans. He founded Bain Capital in 1984, and later pursued a political career.

In his speech, Romney pointed to his years outside Washington and in the private sector, saying they gave him a fresh perspective on how best to manage federal defense spending.

“I look at that kind of inefficiency and bloat and say, ‘Let me at it,’ ” Romney said. He promised to slice billions of dollars in waste, inefficiency and bureaucracy from the defense budget to free up money for modern ships and planes, more troops and ensuring that veterans have the care they deserve.

Addressing the VFW, the nation’s oldest major organization of veterans, on Monday, Perry said the U.S. should avoid “military adventurism” abroad. He also said that when it comes time to fight, U.S. combat troops must be led by American commanders.

He also said U.S. authorities have turned their backs on too many veterans returning home from recent combat, saying “we must take care of them, every one of them.”

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