Waterloo, Iowa (CNN) - A small town Republican fundraising dinner in eastern Iowa was transformed into a full-fledged presidential cattle call on Sunday, with three deeply conservative candidates making their campaign pitches to party activists.
The event, a Lincoln Day Dinner benefiting the Black Hawk County GOP, came as the Republican campaign entered a new phase following the departure of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty from the race.
All eyes at the dinner, held at the Electric Park Ballroom in Waterloo, were fiercely trained on the two candidates who plan to lay claim to Iowa in the coming months: Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Perry was making his Hawkeye State debut one day after formally entering the race and aiming to live up to the hype surrounding his newfound candidacy.
Bachmann, the Iowa frontrunner, came to Waterloo riding high following her victory Saturday in the Ames Straw Poll.
After sidelining Pawlenty, once her chief rival in the state, Bachmann was out to prove that she can maintain her lead in the face of a fresh challenge from a deep-pocketed foe with a similar appeal to evangelical Christians and tea party activists.
It seemed clear that Perry would present a more difficult test than Pawlenty.
Donning a perfectly-cut suit and hard-to-miss Lone Star cufflinks, the imposing Texan paced the stage with a confident ease and moved quickly to establish a favorable storyline: That he is a full spectrum conservative with an unimpeachable record of job creation who can defeat President Barack Obama in 2012.
“We may have issues that separate us, but bringing those diverse groups together and making sure we have a candidate who can beat Obama in November is the most important thing we can do,” he told the audience, who paid rapt attention to the newly minted candidate. “And it's got to be someone that understands, that knows how, who has had job creation experience in their background.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, who led off the trio of candidates on the speaking schedule and has spent more time in Iowa than any candidate in the field, stood off to the side as Perry spoke, carefully evaluating his new rival.
Bachmann, meanwhile, arrived late to her speech but promptly went about hitting the notes that have propelled her to the top of the polls in Iowa.
“I have always been extremely proud of being a social conservative, and we need to have social conservatives in our tent and not kick them out,” Bachmann said. “Without social conservatives will be very difficult to defeat Barack Obama in 2012.”
She emphasized over and over again that she was born in Waterloo and spent there early years of her life here.
Perry took it all in, sitting smack in the middle of the audience in front of the stage, sipping water as she spoke.
After the speech, Bachmann spoke to reporters but dodged questions about how a three-term member of Congress can stack up against two Republicans with executive experience - Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the national frontrunner - on the matter of creating jobs in a difficult economy.
“We welcome Gov. Perry to the race,” said Bachmann, who said she had “not yet” spoken to Perry about his entrance into the race.
It was clear what storyline Bachmann preferred to discuss. She repeatedly hoisted up for the cameras the front page of the Waterloo Courier, which reported on her straw poll win.
While Bachmann was late to the event and rarely left her cocoon of advisers and bodyguards, Perry arrived a full hour before the program and jumped right into campaign mode, moving from table to table introducing himself to audience members one-by-one and, in a few cases, offering hugs and planting kisses on the cheeks of some women. He was mobbed by reporters and cameras as he tried to navigate the crowd.
He sat down at a table with a local couple, Jim and Cecelia Mudd, who expressed their frustration with the president’s handling of the economy. Perry agreed.
“We have just gone through a three-year experiment with the American economy that has gone tragically bad,” he said. “There are a lot of independents and even some Democrats who are going to take a look at the options here. There was interesting clarion call of hope and change that people went for, and it has been a disaster economically, and frankly foreign policy-wise too.”
As he moved through the room, he declined to answer most of the questions tossed at him from a brigade of political reporters eager for their first glimpse of candidate Perry.
He did stop to tell one reporter about his natural appeal to Iowa voters, thanks to his understanding of rural values. Perry was raised in the small farming town of Paint Creek, Texas.
“Across the 50 states, each state is going to be different, but from the standpoint of campaigning here in Iowa, I would put it probably not too unlike campaigning for Agriculture Commissioner in Texas back in 1990,” he said. “Going to a lot of small towns, going to a lot of picnics, going to a lot of fairs. We will spend a lot of time in Iowa. These people are a lot like the folks I grew up with. Most of them are agriculturally-oriented, small town folks. We are going to have a good time getting to know them better.”
Bachmann’s campaign manager Ed Rollins, lingering quietly on the periphery, called Perry “a formidable person.”
“We look forward to doing battle with him,” Rollins told CNN. “I think the critical thing is, as he gets into the debates, we’ll see what he’s like. He has a good stump speech. He’s got all the right lines.”
Perry plans to spend three days traveling through five cities across the state meeting the Republicans who will participate in the caucuses early next year. He announced his campaign in South Carolina, which holds the first southern primary in the nomination fight, and he visited the leadoff primary state of New Hampshire on Saturday.
Ray Sullivan, one of Perry’s senior-most advisers, said the governor planned to introduce himself to Iowans before “drawing contrasts” with other Republicans who have been in the race for much longer.
"We don’t plan on quickly engaging the Republicans in the race,” he said. “We have to have the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina get to know him.”
But Sullivan cautioned that if attacked by Romney or Bachmann or Santorum, “we will certainly vigorously and aggressively defend the governor’s record and vision.”
It used to be Texas had a fairly decent school system, but Parry, like all Republicans these days, is doing his best to make it fail to later use as an excuse to privatize education.
If you want to learn just what a mental midget Parry is, do an Internet search on "rick perry college grades" ... He took between 7 and 16 hours a term at Texas A&M, and got mostly C's and D's.
He did get 2 A's: in "Improvisation of Learning" and "World Military Systems."
History of the US = C
Organic Chemistry = F
"with an unimpeachable record of job creation" ... ooohhhh, except for those 1000's of people he's laying off this year due to not having any more Stimulus money to shore up his budget! OOPS!
As Bachmann tries to out-do secessionist Perry, the GOP will careen off the road to the political right. Sweet to watch.
Perry is great! TX is one of the FEW states that is NOT bankrupt – and IS creating J-O-B-S!
Parry is a traitor who threatened to secede Texas from the Union (and then later whined – and lied – about not getting federal assistance with the Texas wildfires).
Bachmann thinks dinosaurs and human co-existed about 6,000 years ago.
God, while you're going about blessing America, PLEASE SAVE US FROM THESE IDIOTS!
"but what yuo forget is that the MSM is here to help them do that by selling us false equivalencies between GOPers and Dems and failing to report on hypocrisy or juxtapose the exrtemist rhetoric from the primary with the suddenly moderate crap they'll be spewing during the general."
It's all about selling Web page ad space, Baby, and the more sensational, looney and melodramatic it is, the more hits you get!
More like rubber-necking freak-show ....
@ Blame not Working.....
have you checked the latest polls? All of Congress is polling low but the Republicans are polling the LOWEST at 28% approval rating. That's below Obama and the Democrats. And on average MORE Americans blame the GOP for the mess the country is in that they do the Dems. So YES the blame game is still working because Americans are starting to see who your guys are really out to protect. I guess though if you get your talking points from FoxNews you really aren't aware of these things. Tsk tsk tsk
Bachmann is a circus act.
Perry, the job creator, created nothing more than tens of thousands more cashiers at McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Walmart. Slave wage jobs to keep Texas 6th on the list of states with the highest poverty rates. Guns and bibles may be enough to keep Texans happy, but not the rest of America.
It's amazing how the Repubs have tried their best to sabotage Obama's efforts to fix the mess Bush/Cheney got us in. Instead of looking for ways to help they've looked for ways to make him fail. Most of the Repubs should be removed from office. Bachmann is psychotic. Apparently she needs her entourage where ever she goes. I guess just don't have what it takes to stand on her own. At least Perry can stand on his own...but it's the same psychobabble.
Looks like Romney wii end up being the nominee as these two just can't make it with most average/normal folks.
I take it you don't live in Texas like I do. This state is way in the hole..in fact Perry used the stimulus money he so whines about as being evil to try to help balance his budget. And as far as creating jobs, yeah come on down here and get one of our low paying minimum wage no benefits jobs. Plenty here and even if you get a higher paying one the property taxes here are among the highest in the nation. Try paying your electric bill here right now after weeks of 100plus temps. Come down here to Texas....YEEE HAH!!
Great...another empty suit.
Funny how MAC see's Bachman as experience, when she actually has less experience than the President. They omit his years as a State Senator, and a U.S. Senator, and as President, because it makes them feel comfortable trashing him. But in doing so, they expose themselves as hypocrites.
I see Wal-Marts and megachurches dotting the land.
Perry will be a formidable opponent for all candidates and I expect him to be on top or second very soon. Once people start actually listening to Bachmann's nonsense, they will soon lear they do not want her in the Big Chair.
Congresswoman Bachman – What's your plan on jobs, foriegn policy etc.
Answer: We must make Obama a 1-term President.
MTP: Yeah, I know that is your talking point but what do you stand for?
Bachmann: I stand for the oppositie of whatever Obama said.
Hope that either one beats Romney, that way there will be a clear choice... After the "Social Conservative" right wing, 'Tea Party' cooks go down to a stunning defeat, we can finally bury their ideology and come to embrace the fact that America is a pluralistic society.
This just in, Gov Perry is asking McDonald's to open 16,000 more restaurants to create jobs...'hell..ya'll if it works in Texas, it can work for Amerika'....
Any of the Republcian candidates are a vast improvement over what we have now – even Huntsman. I am in Austin, Texas and Santa Fe, New Mexico frequently which are both liberal effite bastions in conservative states. I have noticed a shift in the last 6 months our class warfare President.
@once upon a horse
I live in Texas and am making more $$ than I ever have made. The heat is unbearable right now but get out and earn and living and you can spend time in the summer in Colorado and New Mexico. No place is perfect but the cost of living, private education for my kids and the cost to run my business are a winner. On top of that most people share my conservative views and crime is low where I live being a conceal to carrry state.
AHHHH! I thought Halloween wasn't until October?
I guess Romney may get the nomination after all, there is no way Americans will accept a Tea Party President so Bachmann and Perry are out for sure. The day a Tea Party candidate is elected POTUS is the same day Canada's population increases by 200 million.
Why would anybody vote for these two when we could vote for Obama and GUARANTEE another 4 YEARS of:
1. Record unemployment
2. Record yearly deficits
3. Record debt accumulation
4. Record foreclosures
5. Sky rocketing fuel prices
6. Sky rocketing food prices
7. Destruction of our healthcare system with the unconstitutional Obamacare
8. Endless class warfare
9. Leading from behind
10. Golf outings every weekend at our expense
11. Whitehouse celebrity events at our expense
Yes, the future is just looking SO bright with our Dear Leader Obama. Another 4 years and we'll be lagging behind North Korea and Cuba. Enough of the cult worship and time for a real leader.
Watching these 2 (Perry and Bachmann) try to out-teabag each other is going to worth the price of admission..
Pretty soon Mitt will be standing there like Pawlenty with his hand up, saying "I havent had a chance to speak yet"
Getcha popcorn ready...
Hilarious how these conservatives blame Obama for the economy. They obviously don't remember who RUINED the economy; the republicans who controlled congress and the executives before and during the collapse! I'm not a big Obama fan but he has kept the economy from sinking further and gets no credit for it from these liars.
The Te Party has very limited popularity. Neither Perry nor Bachmann can win. Thye're too extreme. Besides, they want to shove their version of Christianity down everyones throats. The problem is that their version of following Christ disagrees with the Bible's teachings. By the way, when is Santorum going to drop out?