OSKALOOSA, Iowa — Save for a few veiled swipes at his Republican rivals, Gov. Rick Perry at three stops across the south-central part of Iowa on Wednesday reserved most of his ire for President Obama.
His stump speech hit heavily on immigration policy as he continued attacking the federal government, which he said had been an "abject failure" at securing the border. Perry repeated his promise to secure and "shut down" the border within 100 days of taking office, and his disbelief that Obama had visited El Paso in May to declare the border the "safest it's ever been."
Perry added a new strike against Obama to his repertoire, too. He said the fact that the Obama administration had not held a "simple parade" to honor the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan was "disturbing." In Indianola, he hinted that it was because "the war's not popular with his Democrat friends."
"This president, this administration are not interested in giving a parade to those young men and women who have so selflessly served this country," Perry said. "I think that is unjust."
He said also the president should have fired Attorney General Eric Holder "on the spot" after the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal broke.
His fellow GOP presidential hopefuls didn't escaped unmarred, however. In a clear jab at U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, he told the crowds that they should avoid any candidate who would allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, especially when Tehran has said its first target would be Israel. He also repeated a new refrain of his stump speech, telling voters they should not have to settle for anything less than an authentic conservative — and urged them not to send another insider back to Washington.
A CNN poll released Wednesday afternoon shows that Perry has failed to gain much traction here, but with less than a week to go until the Iowa caucuses, the governor appeared relaxed and in good spirits. He twice transitioned smoothly from awkward, off-the-cuff moments.
The first came this morning when Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been accompanying him on the trail since Tuesday, mistakenly called what was apparently a room full of Iowa Hawkeyes by the names of their interconference foes, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
When the booing died down and Perry took the podium, he said, "Boy, you really know how to get an Iowa crowd riled up."
In Indianola, when he called on a woman, she forgot the question she wanted to ask. "I do that, too, sometimes," he quipped, getting a laugh from the crowd.
Perry's part-time Congress plan, which would reduce the salaries and hours of members of Congress in the style of the Texas Legislature, continued to be popular with audiences, who never failed to give a round of applause when he referenced it. But his tough rhetoric on immigration and Washington, D.C., still wasn't enough for some Iowans.
Tom Link, a retired Indianola mortician who attended the event at a local sports bar, said he wasn't sure being from Washington was necessarily a bad thing. He said he liked Perry but was trying to decide between him and Newt Gingrich, who he said knew how the federal government worked.
Perry has been treated unfairly by the media, according to Link. "The press has got him pegged as stupid, which is not true," he said.
David Johnson, an Indianola-based consultant, said he could not get beyond the fact that Perry had signed the law that allows in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.
"I loved him on a lot of things," he said. "But once you've spent taxpayer money to pay for illegal aliens to go to school, that's it."
Before turning in tonight, Perry will appear on the Greta Van Susteren show at 9 p.m. Central.