Wilton, Iowa (CNN) – Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney visited a bank and a local chamber of commerce in Iowa earlier this week with an economic message almost exclusively tailored to business-minded Republicans.
On Saturday, his rival Rick Perry took a different tack and made a blatant appeal to the cultural conservatives he must win over if he hopes to recover his once formidable standing in the polls.
Jobs and the economy were the central messages from both candidates, but Perry’s message was laced with references to such issues as gun rights, abortion and small-town values - topics that Romney typically avoids in his stump speech.
The folksy Texas governor showed off his affinity for firearms at an early morning pheasant hunt Saturday in northwest Iowa with Rep. Steve King, an outspoken conservative whose endorsement would carry significant weight among Republican activists in the state.
After what he described as an “awesome” hunt, Perry flew across the state to the small farming community of Wilton and appeared at a picturesque outdoor fundraiser for state Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, a popular Republican in the legislature.
Speaking just a few yards from a sprawling cornfield and in front of a John Deere tractor, Perry tried to relate to more than 100 local residents by recalling his small-town roots in Paint Creek, Texas.
“You learn a lot growing up on the farm,” he said. “It’s universal. It’s the value of hard work. It’s the duty to family and country. It’s the importance of shooting straight. ... Those values that you learn on the farm are pretty good values for the president of the United States to have as well.”
When asked by a voter about his position on Second Amendment rights, Perry responded with relish, explaining his right to “to defend my family.”
“People that would do harm to me or my family, they don’t care about laws,” Perry said, promising to appoint “strict constructionist” judges to the Supreme Court who would protect the right to purchase and own guns.
And in the course of explaining his jobs record in Texas, Perry veered out of his way to mention his staunch opposition to abortion rights.
“A country that protects and defends life is really important,” he said. “It’s important for the president of the United States to support legislation that protects life.”
He made no mention of Romney or businessman Herman Cain, the two Republicans who top most of the recent polls conducted in Iowa.
Perry has stumbled badly in Iowa despite soaring to the Republican lead after joining the race in August.
Meanwhile, Romney has barely campaigned in the Hawkeye State, but is now considered a front-runner to win the caucuses as the rest of the GOP field competes for a more conservative slice of the electorate.
But Perry clearly had Romney in his sights when he promised to be the most conservative candidate in the race and deliver “a huge helping of the unbridled truth” to America.
“I am not the candidate of the establishment,” Perry declared. “You will not hear a lot of shape-shifting nuance from me.”
Kaufmann, the state legislator who hosted the event, has not endorsed a candidate yet, but he spoke warmly of Perry after the speech and said Romney needs to spend more time in rural Iowa.
“Gov. Romney needs to come out here,” Kaufmann told CNN. “He needs to see as many cornfields as CEOs when he comes out here or he’s not going to get Iowa at all.”