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DES MOINES (Reuters) - Presidential candidate Rick Perry said Republican rival Mitt Romney would not provide a stark enough contrast with President Barack Obama in the 2012 election because of his record on health care policy.
"Government-mandated, government-run health care - It is part of what he put in place as the governor of Massachusetts," Perry said on Thursday during a speech in the early caucus state of Iowa.
"I think it's very important that we put someone as our nominee that does not blur the lines between President Obama and the Republican Party," Perry said.
As Massachusetts governor, Romney signed a law requiring Massachusetts residents to get health insurance or pay a penalty. Perry, citing a Beacon Hill Institute study, said the state lost thousands of jobs because of the mandate.
"If it cost Massachusetts 18,000 jobs, think about what ObamaCare is going to do to this country," Perry said. "RomneyCare has driven private insurance costs up by $4.3 billion in Massachusetts."
Iowa holds the first U.S. election contest on February 6 and a victory there can give a Republican candidate important momentum in the race to choose a nominee to face Obama in November next year.
Perry, the front-runner among Republicans seeking a chance to unseat Obama, touts his own record as governor of Texas as the "blueprint" for turning the economy around.
Romney has suggested the Texas economy was thriving for a variety of reasons other than Perry's stewardship as governor. Perry brought that up during his speech in Jefferson, Iowa.
"Governor Romney the other night, he said that about, you know, he said, well, it's pretty easy to be governor when you get four aces in your hand and you think you're good at poker," Perry said.
"You know, there's some folks back in Texas that were a little offended by that. We worked hard in Texas. We put good, hard, practical principles into play."
Perry contrasted his own background with that of Romney, the son of a former Michigan governor, George Romney, who earned his wealth in the car industry.
"As the son of tenant farmers, I can promise you I wasn't born with four aces in my hand," Perry said near the beginning of his speech, and the crowd laughed as many recognized the phrase from Monday's debate.
"But like many of you the American dream was available to us because this country that we live in is not a class society. This country is based on hard-work and vision and anyone who does that can achieve anything that they desire."
Editing by Cynthia Johnston