MANCHESTER, N.H. — Rick Perry, taking a dig at rival presidential candidate Mitt Romney on his home turf, urged New Hampshire voters Saturday to steer clear of Republicans who seem too much like the president they want to replace.
Perry did not mention Romney by name, but it fits Perry’s strategy of portraying himself as the more conservative alternative to the former Massachusetts governor. It was also the most overt signal yet that the Texas governor will soon have to distinguish himself from his GOP rivals and not focus exclusively on the Democratic incumbent.
“In the coming months you’re going to hear a lot of appeals from my Republican friends who are running for president,” Perry said. “Let me just go on the record and say they’re all good men and women, but … we don’t need a nominee who is going to blur the differences between themselves and Barack Obama.”
Some analysts suggest Perry is too conservative and too controversial to beat Obama, and that Romney would make a better candidate in the general election. The Texas governor made the opposite argument Saturday.
Perry, who spoke at two house parties in New Hampshire, said he was the only candidate who “draws a clear contrast” with Obama.
“The differences between President Obama and myself are great,” Perry said in Manchester. “He’s lost more than a million jobs while he’s been president. I’ve created a million jobs since I’ve been the governor.”
Later, at an event in Chichester, near the capital city of Concord, Perry amended the last line by saying he had “helped create” a million jobs by putting pro-business policies into place.
Perry rocketed into front-runner status after announcing for president in Charleston, S.C., three weeks ago. Since then, Romney, who has previously been leading in presidential surveys, has tossed a few barbs Perry’s way. Early last week in San Antonio, Romney railed against “career politicians” without naming the obvious target.
Later in the week, in Florida, he highlighted his opposition to in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, another dig at Perry, who signed 2001 legislation allowing for it — and has never wavered in his support of the idea.
While it’s clear the economy is on the minds of voters, immigration remains a hot-button issue for Republican primary voters. During question-and-answer sessions with voters Saturday, Perry was asked several times about his stance on illegal immigration and border security.
Perry said the federal government had failed to keep drugs and crime from oozing into the United States from Mexico and he told the crowd in Manchester that as president he would “close that border down to those types of illegal activities.”
At one point, Perry was asked about his views on a border wall. It got slightly contentious with a voter who obviously felt some passion on the issue.
“I don’t support a fence on the border. I think strategic fencing is a part of the strategy,” Perry said. “If you build a 30-foot wall from El Paso to Brownsville, the 35-foot ladder business gets real good.”
As the man kept pressing, Perry said: “You’ve got to have people on the ground, sir … and it’s got to be law enforcement.”
The governor was also quizzed about term limits Saturday. The longtime governor, who hasn’t lost an election since winning a state House seat in 1984, said he was not a fan.
“When we term limit good people,” he said, “we turn this country over to the bureaucrats.”
Perry is on his first long road trip since he announced for president on Aug. 13. He is scheduled to appear at a televised forum with Romney and the other major candidates on Monday in Columbia, S.C. And then he will take to the stage of his first nationally televised debate on Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
The governor also has several fundraisers and a couple of rallies planned for California.
Perry seemed to make news at every stop during his first week as a candidate, but the events were more tightly controlled on Saturday. There were rope lines holding reporters away from his large New Hampshire crowds, and the governor did not hold any gaggles or press availabilities with the media. He did squeeze in some interviews with local media outlets.
At his second stop Saturday, in Chichester, there was reason to think Perry might make a little splash when he asked to comment on the Federal Reserve. Last month, Perry drew headlines and condemnation when he said it would be “almost treasonous” for the central bank to print more money as a way to battle economic problems ahead of the election.
“I made some comments and I’m no great friend of the Federal Reserve,” Perry said. “The Federal Reserve does not need to be making monetary policy to cover up bad fiscal policy by this administration.”