WAVERLY, Iowa — Amid renewed attacks on Rick Santorum today, Gov. Rick Perry answered a question that's been on many minds since July: the whereabouts of his signature cowboy boots.
"They're on the bus," he said during a question-and-answer session at the Fainting Goat restaurant, his second stop of the day.
He said he was wearing Justin ropers, "sans the tops," because leather boots get "a little bit cold" and "a little bit slick" in the Iowa weather. When Perry, who rarely appeared without his boots before the summer, switched footwear, it prompted speculation that he was still suffering from his July 1 back surgery.
Perry's wife and daughter joined him today on the trail, where the governor continued to fire on "prolific earmarker" Santorum.
The former Pennsylvania senator has defended his use of earmarks in Congress, saying he was proud of his priorities.
"It’s easy for Rick Perry — or anyone running for president — to say they're against earmarks because it gives more power to the president,” he said on Fox News' America Live.
During stump speeches in Waterloo and Waverly that hit heavily on patriotic notes, Perry said he wanted to get "more specific" with Santorum.
"Please tell me why you asked taxpayers to support the 'bridge to nowhere' in Alaska," Perry said. "Why did you ask the taxpayers of Iowa to support a teapot museum in North Carolina, an indoor rainforest in Iowa, and the ... Montana sheep institute? Why were those important enough for you to vote for?"
Iowans have turned out to see the Texas governor across the Hawkeye State, often packing venues well in advance of his arrival. An NBC News-Marist poll released today shows Perry's support inching up in the state — he came in fourth, just in front of Newt Gingrich. Ron Paul and Mitt Romney tied for first, and Santorum was just a point ahead of Perry in third.
Perry's campaign hopes to close that gap and came out swinging against Santorum as soon as polls showed his support surging. But a few voters at his first stop in Waterloo today remained skeptical.
"I wish he'd just go after Obama. I think they all do that kind of stuff up there," said Wayne Folken, a Cedar Rapids Wal-Mart greeter who beamed as he displayed Perry's fresh autograph on his T-shirt. Regardless, Folken said, Perry had his support.
Loren Miller, a retired farmer who lived just south of the city, said he didn't like Santorum, but not because of the earmarking. "He couldn't get re-elected in his own state," he said.
Perry's proposals, like a balanced-budget amendment and a part-time Congress plan, were "encouraging," Miller said, "if he can deliver on what he says."