Rick Perry, seeking to recharge his struggling White House campaign, called for an end to federal energy subsidies during a visit to Iowa yesterday that he also used to criticize Mitt Romney’s economic plan.
“There’s some in my party who have their own versions of the status quo,” the Texas governor said during a stop in Des Moines. “You will find out pretty quickly I’m not much of a status quo person. The establishment is not real fond of me.”
Perry singled out an economic proposal put forward by the former Massachusetts governor, who is at or near the top in most state and national polls in the Republican primary race. Perry, who has proposed a 20 percent flat tax, said Romney’s plan was wrongly based on preserving much of the current tax system.
“Some think we can fix Washington with a pair of tweezers,” he said in the state that’s scheduled to host the nation’s first nomination contest on Jan. 3. “I happen to think we need to take a sledgehammer to it.”
Earlier yesterday at a Republican candidates’ forum, Perry, 61, said his opposition to energy subsidies includes an extension of federal wind-energy tax credits that benefit Iowa, one of the nation’s top wind-producing states.
“The federal government needs to be completely out of the energy business, picking winners and losers,” he said.
Iowa ranks second nationally among the states in wind- generation output, according to a fact sheet created by the Iowa Department of Economic Development, the Iowa Office of Energy Independence and the Iowa Utilities Board in July 2010.
About 2,300 jobs are committed to wind manufacturing in Iowa, the agencies said, and almost a fifth of the state’s total power output comes from wind generation.
As part of his call to end subsidies, Perry also mentioned ethanol, a corn-based fuel that is popular in a state with a large agriculture base. He has similar opposition to federal subsidies for oil and natural gas, Perry said.
He said the one role he sees for federal dollars in the energy industry is research and development, as he kept his focus on President Barack Obama during his forum appearance.
“This president of the United States is at war with the coal industry,” he said.
Perry was one of five Republican presidential candidates who appeared at the forum at the headquarters of Vermeer Corp., a farm-equipment manufacturer based in Pella, Iowa. The gathering, which allowed each candidate 15 minutes to answer questions, was moderated by Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa and Tom Hudson, a co-anchor of PBS’s “Nightly Business Report.”
Like Perry, U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said she supports ending ethanol subsidies. Iowa is the biggest corn producer, and the state’s farmers benefit from ethanol subsidies because they generate more demand for corn.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia said he would support an extension of wind-energy tax credits, especially if it was for a longer period, so businesses could better make long-term investment decisions.
“I would like to see a minimum 10-year tax credits with a rolling annual renewal like football coaches,” he said. “That’s a pretty good model to keep people focused.”
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania questioned whether some of the Republican candidates leading in the polls are best positioned to be their party’s nominee.
“I always remind people that the quote ‘top three’ candidates for president on the Republican side all supported the Wall Street bailout,” he said. “I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing for us as a party to be going out in this election cycle with someone who supported a huge government intervention into the marketplace.”
Responding to similar criticism by Santorum during an Oct. 18 debate about backing the 2008 bank rescue, Perry said a letter of support he co-wrote then to Congress was a call for less regulation and lower taxes, not a bailout plan.
The letter that Perry, then the head of the Republican Governors’ Association, sent along with his Democratic counterpart at the time, said, “We urge Congress to leave partisanship at the door and pass an economic recovery package.” It concluded that, “Congress needs to act now.”
At yesterday’s forum, U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas said no when asked whether those in the Occupy Wall Street protest movement should be granted forgiveness for their student loans because of the troubled U.S. economy.
“It would just be more interference,” he said. “We should give them jobs, so that they can start paying that debt down.”
The forum follows the release of a poll in Iowa over the weekend that showed businessman Herman Cain and Romney in a statistical tie for the most support among Republicans in Iowa.
The Iowa Poll, conducted by the Des Moines Register newspaper, showed Cain with the support of 23 percent of likely caucus participants and Romney backed by 22 percent.
Cain, 65, who like Romney didn’t participate in the forum, is seeking to defuse any political damage resulting from reports that at least two women alleged sexually suggestive behavior on his part when he headed the National Restaurant Association during the 1990s.
Branstad discounted the importance of the reports for Cain in an interview yesterday before the forum.
“Iowans are very fair-minded and they are going to give him the benefit of the doubt and give him an opportunity to hear his side of the story,” he said. “I don’t see that it’s going to have a big impact.”
Branstad said Iowans are more concerned about jobs than what he categorized as a personal attack.
“Anybody that’s been a high-profile person or in business knows there’s always people looking to try to take advantage of the situation and sue you or make some kind of accusation,” the governor said. “Anybody that’s been high-profile in business certainly has some empathy.”
After the forum, Branstad told reporters it was “unfortunate” that Romney and Cain were absent.
“They missed out on the opportunity to address the No. 1 issue in this campaign, and that is creating jobs,” he said.
The Iowa Poll showed that Perry has work to do in the state, with the caucuses two months away. He was backed by 7 percent of likely caucus-goers in the survey, putting him in a tie with Gingrich for fifth place.
Paul was in third place with 12 percent, followed by Bachmann with 8 percent. Santorum, who has spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate, was at 5 percent, while former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who isn’t actively competing in Iowa, had 1 percent.
The Iowa poll was conducted Oct. 23-26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Perry, who declared his candidacy on Aug. 13, led national polls of the Republican race just five weeks ago. Since then, his standing in surveys has dropped by as much as 20 percentage points following debate performances he acknowledged were mediocre and as support for Cain has grown.
If Perry is to regain momentum, his surge most likely will have to start in Iowa, with a strong showing in the caucuses. He is scheduled to spend at least three days in the state this week. He has also started running television ads there.
Romney, 64, is taking a below-the-radar approach to Iowa as he seeks to manage expectations for his caucus performance.
In his 2008 presidential bid, after an all-out effort to win the caucuses, Romney finished second behind former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Social conservatives, who turn out in large numbers in the Republican caucuses, balked at Romney’s past support of abortion rights and a Massachusetts health-care law he signed, and his loss helped derail his candidacy.
Iowa’s social conservatives have yet to rally around a contender in the current campaign, creating the prospect that they could divide their support among several candidates and create an opening for Romney to do well in the caucuses.
--Editors: Robin Meszoly, Mark McQuillan.
To contact the reporter on this story: John McCormick in Des Moines, Iowa at email@example.com
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