DERRY, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry, reeling from recent debate missteps, told voters in New Hampshire on Friday he is the authentic conservative choice for the Republican nomination for president.
At a town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, Perry took a veiled shot at former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has recently jumped back to Republican front-runner status.
The Perry campaign has attempted to link the governance style and positions of Romney with that of President Barack Obama. “We need a nominee for the Republican Party who is a clear contrast with Barack Obama,” Perry said.
Borrowing a line from President Ronald Reagan, he declared, “Now is the time for bright colors, not pale pastels. And let me tell you, I‘m that bright color.”
Perry highlighted his record of bringing jobs to Texas, in part by competing aggressively with other states.
Without mentioning Romney, he said “some” candidates had made their reputations by sending jobs to China.
Romney is a former chief executive of the venture capital firm Bain Capital, which outsourced jobs from some of the companies it bought. Romney has said that, on net, Bain Capital created “tens of thousands” of jobs at the companies it acquired or helped to fund.
In his first visit in over a month to the key early primary state of New Hampshire, Perry took questions on Social Security, climate change, nursing home funding and taxes. In his answers, he hammered on familiar themes.
Asked about how to help struggling seniors dependent on food stamps and welfare, Perry offered more domestic energy production he said would bring down the cost of fuel.
“The cost of energy is one of the biggest costs that seniors have,” Perry said, adding that if more jobs are created in the United States, “more of those senior citizens might chose to go back into the work force.”
Perry repeated his view that the Social Security program has elements of a Ponzi scheme. “We do have a broken system,” he said, adding that those now in retirement or close to retirement should still be guaranteed their payments.
New Hampshire’s mostly moderate Republicans have not warmed up to Perry’s message so far. A recent poll from Suffolk University in Boston put Perry’s support at 8 percent against Romney’s 41 percent.
Outside the event, a pair of Romney supporters handed out a book titled “Rick Perry’s Plan to Get America Working Again,” depicting a gun-wielding Perry on the cover. Inside, the 104-page book was mostly blank.
Voter John Washburn, 55, of Merrimack, New Hampshire, said he was impressed by Perry, but remains undecided.
“The tuition for illegal immigrants is a stumbling block for me,” said Washburn.
Perry has been slammed by opponents for supporting in-state college tuition rates for illegal immigrant students living in Texas. The topic did not come up at Friday’s event.
The Texan has several more events in New Hampshire on Saturday, as the state’s first-in-the-nation primary looms closer than was originally expected.
Florida’s move on Friday to move up its Republican primary to January 31 is likely to push forward the 2012 election schedule. In New Hampshire’s case, the nominating contest could move to mid-January or even earlier. It had been expected to take place on February 14.
Editing by Todd Eastham