AMES, Iowa — Hoping to build momentum after a strong performance in his latest nationally televised debate, Gov. Rick Perry hit a Sunday morning TV show, spoke at two church services and staged a boisterous rally at a coffee shop in central Iowa.
The Café Diem in Ames was packed to the gills for a brief rally where future caucus participants were handed T-shirts stamped with the Perry for President logo. The crowd was generally enthusiastic and pro-Perry, but a few protesters got in and yelled at the governor after he concluded his remarks.
(Watch Root's video below. The heckling begins about 1:40 in, right after Perry finishes his remarks.)
It was more evidence that Perry’s edgy new ad, lumping together criticism of policies that allow gays in the military and restrict school prayer, continues to stir controversy here.
“You’re a divider!” shouted Warren Blumenfeld, a local college professor and gay activist. “You don’t have a right to be president of the United States. … Go back to Texas!”
Another woman in the audience shouted “you’re a hypocrite, man!” The two protesters clasped hands after Blumenfeld yelled out “Obama for president!” which elicited boos from the otherwise Republican-leaning crowd.
Perry kept smiling and ignored the demonstrators as he worked the audience and signed autographs. One Perry supporter at the event said he believed the governor was beginning to win over voters who are disillusioned with the continually changing lineup of GOP front-runners.
Engineer Brian Andersen, 37, who lives in the Waterloo area, said he had first gone with Iowa native Michele Bachmann, then drifted to businessman Herman Cain when she faded in the summer. After Cain’s campaign collapsed over allegations of sexual harassment and marital infidelity, Andersen migrated to Perry.
“I’ve been looking for a conservative that can be a leader, that can win,” Andersen said. “The debates have probably been the biggest ball and chain [for Perry]. … Events like this is what it’s going to take.”
A throng of reporters gathered around Perry on his way out the back of the cafe on Sunday, and the governor was asked about rival Mitt Romney’s odd $10,000 bet from the previous night.
Aides are hopeful that Perry’s exchange with Romney, part of a confident and gaffe-free performance after a series of awful moments in prior debates, has given the governor an opening at a time when many analysts are all but declaring his candidacy dead.
The governor refused the wager, which centered on whether Romney had flip-flopped on health insurance mandates, but both Democrats and Republicans have used the episode to tar the former Massachusetts governor as an out-of-touch multimillionaire. Romney is said to be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 million.
“The idea that I would have $10,000 to make a bet was a little out of the ordinary,” Perry told reporters in Ames. “I’m not a bettin’ man, so it was no harm no foul from my perspective. … I would suggest to you that $10,000 is pocket change for Mitt to make that statement. But you’ll need to ask him. You know, maybe it was just a misstatement or something, who knows.”
Earlier in the day, Perry appeared on Fox News Sunday, where he continued to pound Romney over the health care issue and called for a constitutional amendment allowing prayer in public schools. Perry also acknowledged he sometimes forgets facts and makes errors on the campaign trail. In his most recent gaffe, Perry struggled to name a Supreme Court justice and didn’t give the right number of justices serving on the high court.
Perry said in the Fox interview that voters don’t want a “robot that can spit out the name of every Supreme Court justice or someone that's going to be perfect in every way. They're looking for somebody who's got values.”
The governor has been stressing his Christian faith and longtime marriage to Anita Perry as a way to distinguish himself from his rivals. After taking an implicit shot on this subject at thrice-married rival Newt Gingrich during Saturday's debate, on Sunday he kept up the values theme with a quick stop at the Point of Grace evangelical mega-church in Waukee, outside of Des Moines.
Speaking at two separate services, Perry tried to connect with churchgoers by giving his personal story, starting out as a boy living in the small Texas cross-roads of Paint Creek. He told the crowd his family didn’t have much money and that his mother made most of his clothes.
“I had a dog and a Shetland pony,” Perry said, “I had everything I needed.”
But Ames homemaker Amy Bleyle held a hand-crafted sign above Perry, as reporters and photographers surrounded the governor with cameras and boom mikes.
"I Am A Christian. I Support Marriage Equality," the sign said.
Bleyle, a Democrat, said Perry had given Christians a bad name.
"There's more than one path to God," she said. "You can be a Christian and not have his views."