Thursday night's GOP debate came just a day after Gov. Rick Perry kicked off his Iowa bus tour, where he hopes caucus-goers will give him a second look and another chance. He played up that narrative early in the debate, saying he was ready to make the kind of last-minute comeback that Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has become famous for this year.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
“And you know he won two national championships — we were the national champions in job creation back in Texas," Perry said. "So... am I ready for the next level, let me tell you, I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses."
Perry's still quite a few yards short of a touchdown in Iowa. Some polls have him up to fourth place here. He didn't have any missteps Thursday night that would set him back. Perry even had one of the night's biggest applause lines, when he attacked former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich for working with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
“And the idea that you can’t tell the difference between lobbying and consulting, the idea that we have Congress staying there as many days that they do with the salary they have," Perry said. "That’s the reason I’ve called for a part-time Congress. Cut their pay in half. Cut their time in Washington in half. Cut their staff in half. Send them home. Let them get a job like everyone else back home has.”
For Congressman Ron Paul, the night highlighted how some of his views put him in direct opposition with many of the GOP candidates, and even with many conservative Iowa caucus-goers. After Gingrich and others called for the elimination of what they perceive as liberal activist federal courts, Paul stepped in.
“OK, there are 10 courts. Let’s get rid of three this year because they ruled in a way we didn’t like. That to me is I think opening up a can of worms for us and would lead to trouble," Paul said. "But I really, really question this idea that Congress could subpoena judges and bring them before the Congress. That’s a real affront to the separation of powers."
He also took issue with many of the other candidates’ ideas on how to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Paul was especially vocal after former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said Iran doesn’t hate the United States because of fears the U.S. might attack or issue sanctions,“but because of who we are and what we believe in.”
“To declare war on 1.2 billion Muslims and say all Muslims are the same, this is dangerous talk," Paul said. "Yeah there are some radicals but they don’t come here to kill us because we’re free and prosperous. Do they go to Switzerland and Sweden? I mean that’s absurd.”
Now the candidates hit the road. Most polls put Paul in third place in Iowa. He'll try to capitalize on that base of support to pull off what would be a surprise win here. Meanwhile, Perry hops back on the bus, barnstorming around the state, in an attempt to beat what are now low caucus expectations.