Des Moines, Iowa (CNN) – As Hurricane Irene strikes and spooks large parts of the U.S., Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry is not yet ready to praise President Barack Obama's handling of the storm.
The Texas governor appeared at a county GOP picnic in Des Moines on Saturday. During an exchange with reporters, Perry was asked if the president has been an effective leader during a week that saw two menacing natural disasters: an earthquake and currently the hurricane.
Though Perry would not cast judgment, he did cast his answer in overtly political terms.
"He has been an absolute disaster as a president from the standpoint of our economy. That's what people are really focused on," Perry said. "Taking a snapshot of whether or not he's appropriately dealt with the hurricane - I don't know yet. I'll tell you when the hurricane's over."
The Texas governor was, however, ready to praise another elected leader: fellow Republican, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. On Friday as Irene approached, the Garden State governor sternly told New Jersey residents and tourists to "get the hell off the beach."
Perry praised Christie's evacuation warnings.
"He was spot on with that. Chris Christie is a governor who gets it," Perry said. "Those governors of those states along the Eastern Seaboard are the ones that are actually going to be making the decisions that save the lives, that prepare for this hurricane, that do the search and rescue, and then frankly - do the first part of the recovery."
Meanwhile, the Texas governor would not sign onto comments made by fellow GOP presidential contender Ron Paul. At a GOP event in New Hampshire on Friday, the Texas congressman said the nation could do without the Federal Emergency Management Agency - the entity that helps coordinate the response to a disaster.
Paul spoke to the Republican crowd before Perry, reiterating his oft-stated Libertarian principles of less government intrusion in state affairs and the lives of private citizens.
Asked if he agreed with Paul's lashing of FEMA, Perry criticized the agency - but stopped far short of saying the nation could do without it.
"I just think FEMA needs to be effective," Perry said. "They need to be able to help the people when they have natural disasters across this country. We've seen FEMA not perform to the level, from time to time. They can be slow, they can be bureaucratic."
Perry continued: "Is there a better way to do it? Is there a better way to coordinate with the states? Listen, nobody knows better how to deal with the issues of preparations, search & rescue than the local governments."
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