The appearances of Rep. Michele Bachmann and Gov. Rick Perry on the same stage in Waterloo, Iowa, Sunday evening were billed as the “shootout at the O.K. Corral,” but the target for the two Republican candidates was President Barack Obama instead of each other.
Perry, who had the first turn at the podium during the Black Hawk County GOP's annual Lincoln Day Dinner, came out with his Texas guns a-blazin’ in his criticism of the president. Bachmann took the same tack when she ascended the stage several minutes after Perry’s speech.
"I happen to think the biggest issue facing this country is that we are facing economic turmoil, and if we don't have a president that doesn't get this country working, we're in trouble," Perry told about 300 Republicans in the ballroom.
"And I've got a track record," he said, citing his success in creating jobs in the Lone Star State.
Perry also denounced the nation’s debt and spending practices, saying, “The president of the United States has a pen, and it's called a veto pen — and I'll use that until all of the ink runs out to get the message across that we're not spending all the money.”
Perry, who has a strong following among tea party members and evangelicals, explained the movement’s frustration with government.
“Tea party types aren't angry,” he said. “We're indignant about big government hurting companies. We're indignant about [the fact that] Washington would take half of what you have worked for in what we call the death tax.
“We're indignant about a president who goes on an apology tour instead of talking about American exceptionalism,” Perry said toward the end of his remarks, during which he didn’t mention Bachmann, even once.
Several minutes separated Perry’s and Bachmann’s addresses in the Minnesota congresswoman’s hometown, and Perry started his speech with down-home details of his own upbringing in Paint Creek, Texas.
The 61-year-old told of his first date at the age of 8, and his marriage to that same girl, his wife, Anita, three decades ago by way of saying that he sometimes takes his time before momentous decisions.
Similarly, it took him awhile to jump into the GOP race, said Perry, who announced his long-awaited bid for the GOP presidential nomination in South Carolina Saturday, even as Bachmann was chalking up her first-place win in the Iowa Straw Poll.
But now that he has announced, “Let me tell you I'm in. I'm in all the way,” said Perry, chairman of the national Republican Governors Association.
Even though Perry and Bachmann weren’t scheduled for a face-to-face confrontation, their appearance at the same event on a day when Tim Pawlenty’s exit from the race helped reset the chess board was billed as a potentially explosive turn in the GOP nomination contest.
“That’s like the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral,” predicted Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who is a Bachmann ally in Congress and popular with tea party activists.
For her part, Bachmann noted at the start of her speech that she had kicked off her campaign in Waterloo: “Fifty days ago, we launched our campaign here. Now we've made a down payment to get Obama out of the White House this weekend.”
Observing that the president will be in Iowa this week during a three-day Midwest bus tour, she said, “He needs to know job creation is number one in Iowa.”
Touting her own business background, Bachmann said she has experience "starting a business from scratch and building it up so that we can actually offer jobs to people."
Also important in Iowa, she stressed, is a firm stance against abortion and for the concept that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Adherence to such socially conservative issues will be essential during the presidential race, she said.
“Without social conservatives, it will be very difficult to beat Barack Obama in 2012," she said.
Bachmann, founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, denounced those who criticize the tea party movement and blame it for the debt ceiling crisis.
“The debt has completely changed the flavor of Washington,” she said. “The tea party has been the antidote to that. We should praise the tea party, not diss them.”
Lamenting the nation’s $14 trillion debt, she said, “We are in a period where we are the brokest nation in the world.”
During her forays throughout the Hawkeye State, she said, “Everywhere I’ve gone, I've seen people more hopeful than they've been because they sense something. The oomph with Obama is gone.”
If this is any indication of who will pull the most attention as the campaign proceeds, the overwhelming majority of people who participated in a Waterloo Courier poll of which candidate they were most interested in listening to during the Lincoln Day dinner said Perry, at 75 percent, with 21 percent noting Bachmann and a mere 4 percent looking forward to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Santorum, who spoke before Perry and Bachmann, described his presidential bid as the “little-engine-that-could campaign.”
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