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.”
Why Perry? Jobs!
I live in Texas. Rick Perry is scary and a true nut job.
And may the games begin. Good bye Pawlenty, and soon to be other candidates who stumbled. Funny how they say it is Perry and Bachman but no one mentions Paul who came in second. Got no respect. Not that I am a Republican voter but I am so afraid of how this media portrays a dumb and dumber campaign over one who has been in the battle from the very beginning. Can't wait for Palin to jump in and stump them all. Good bye repukes.
Poor ole Ed Rollins, looks like he has another loser on his hands. The photos of Bachmann and Perry confirm that they are sure crazy looking.
Two right wing nuts.
Battle of wits between two unarmed people.
All I can say is I am sincerely disappointed in Ed Rollins for working with Bachmann. She is a loon – he is not.
“We have just gone through a three-year experiment with the American economy that has gone tragically bad,” he said
Yes indeed Perry except that the 'experiment' wasn't President Obama, he did what was necessary, the 'experiment' was you and the rest of the GOtPers seeing how long you could obstruct EVERYTHING the President proposed; how far down the hole said obstruction could take the economy, and lastly how easy would it be to continue duping willfully ignorant voters into giving you their votes in November 2010, and 2012.
So far I must say I agree with you: YOUR experiment has had tragic results for the US and its' middle class. Our only hope is making sure that you lose your majority in the House, and that none of you GOTP MAD SCIENTISTS that are currently running for President get anywhere near the White House in 2012.
The lab rats are revolitng, and the monkeys are out of their cages.
like watching midget wrestling...a battle of the very small minded
If these are the two frontrunners in the GOP field, that party is in deep trouble.
Yawn. "I'm teh bigger extremist!" "No, I am...I has more krischuniness!" "Oh yeah, well I think the economies is magic!" "No way man, I has blind hates for teh gov't and want to makes it destroyed!" "That's all fine and dandy, but I says we should rewrite the Konstitooshunz!" "Values values...everyone shoudl live the way I says!" "Jesus loves me more!" "No taxes whatsoever!" "States rights!" "Get rid of darky!" and on and on and on and on...
Why isn't Ron Paul who won second place in the Straw poll getting news coverage?
Perry has more going for him than Bachmann. The biggest thing is that he waited for people to call him rather than jumping out there like everyone else has. You know Bachmann is not happy with him in the mix. Palin will likely stay out of it as everyone leaves Bachmann camp for Perry. Palin doesn't like looking like a loser.
Map-face Perry as good-looking as he is, and as charming will pull the chair out for you ladies, and insist that you take a seat before him, and hug and kiss you, and not blink once in taking away your healthcare, your 401k, your mama's Medicare and your daddy's Social Security.
Such an affable, trustworthy fellow!
Are you really even considering getting Bush-screwed AGAIN America?
"Why she didn't lose the bodyguards, I'll never know. Does she really need bodyguards? "
1. It makes you look more important and official to have bodyguards. They are "accessories" just like earrings and her Prada purse.
2. It dogwhistles to the right wing extremists that (a) she's afraid what all those crazy liberal extremist socialist Mao-worshipping loons might do to her for being a righteous Krischun bible-trooth-speaking self-declared morally superior angry know-nothing and (b) is a confirmation bias tool for convincing the right wing extremists she's pandering to that she actually is in danger and that those crazy lefties do exist and are out to get her for being so darn right about everything.
Great. Now we get to the see the fight to see who the biggest Jesus Freak is.
Religious wackos. The day the GOP distances itself from religion will be a great day and they will have my support.
Obama/Biden 2012 -- Sanity, maturity, and intelligence.
Honestly, how many of us will look at the reality of the situation. 8 years of driving the economy in the ditch, wall street alone stole enough money from the public to ruin the economy, then 2 unpaid for wars that drain resources, and that just the first 30-day of Obama administration. I'm not defending the president, but has anyone seen and semblance of cooperation towards fixing the by our elected officals. That the real issue here– a company can hire the right team of people to fix its problems, but we can elect a group of people who can work together to solve the country problems.
If America ran it wars like we run our politics, we'd still be a colony of England
Cool....making it even easier for President Obama! "3 Year experiment".....who comes up with crap like this? Do they honestly think we have forgotten who really crapped in the kitty box and is pointing the finger elsewhere? Trying to offload the economy on Obama is laughable at best. Of course, when the economy has it's up days, they aren't going to credit him for it either. They are doing their best to see that doesn't happen, but it has and it will.
No thank you, you Repubs can keep your radical extremism and wanting America to default on its debts. Wanting America to default on its debts is the MOST irresponsible position the repubs could take.
Neither of these Repugnican'ts are deserved of the highest office in the land. Ms. Bachmann is seriously deranged while Mr. Perry is merely a megalomaniac. Bachmann, if nominated, stands no chance whatsoever of toppling Obama whereas Perry would have a better than even chance of preventing an Obama second term.
As you listen to the bombastic Mr. Perry spout his 'job creation' statistics, bear in mind that a large percentage of these jobs are low-wage, no benefit jobs and some are in very volatile job markets that historically go from boom to bust. Furthermore, Mr. Perry fancies himself a charter member of the Tea Party, a ruthless, ultra conservative, uncaring gang of fiscally ignorant malcontent sycophants that have only their own interests at heart.
Ms. Bachmann rails against large government and taxes yet has no problem slopping at the federal trough for her $174,000 annual salary as well as reaping the subsidy crop through her husband's farm. Her head is full of non-factual 'facts' which she tosses out on a regular basis and then when called on one of these preposterous rantings, denies that she said it.
I don't really want to vote for Obama again (he is wanting, and badly so) but if either of these two are his opposition, I will be forced to again cast a vote for Obama.
Great.... Bachman the unelectable woman or Perry the former Democrat and Gore Supporter. Great choices GOP!
america and certainly the republicans have hit a new low....the horror of having these fools in charge. puppet heads bought and managed by huge $$$ that appeal to lemmings who fall for that churchy stuff. this dumbing down is sooo soooo bad for our country.
Funny how Ron Paul virtually tied for first place in the Ames Straw Poll, yet he isn't even mentioned in this article.
RON PAUL IS THE ONLY CHOICE FOR PRESIDENT IN 2012 !!