Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
DES MOINES, Iowa – Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry's entry into the 2016 GOP presidential fray barely registered on the local evening news here the day after his official campaign launch.
But when he’s among seven Republican presidential hopefuls, the local and national media arrive, as they did Saturday in Boone – a small town about an hour north of Des Moines – for U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride event. It was the first real retail politics event of the caucus cycle, featuring a majority of the candidates and presumed contenders — plus motorcycles.
Perry took the stage first, and with just eight minutes to speak, he wasted little time separating himself from the pack.
“I am privileged to share a stage with these young men and women that are going to talk about the future of America, but this is going to be a show me, don’t tell me election,” he told the crowd.
It was a jab at the competition that didn’t bother David Freligh, a Republican from Pella, who says he fears that with so many in the race, the candidates will send a damaged nominee into the general election.
“Everyone seems to be leaning on their own merits and that comforts me,” he said.
Perry highlighted the challenges he faced in his 14 years as governor – dealing with numerous natural disasters; managing the containment of the Ebola virus and securing the border.
The Roast and Ride coincided with the 71st anniversary of D-Day, when 160,000 Allied troops invaded the beaches of Normandy to fight Nazi Germany. The host, Ernst, is a combat veteran herself, and the remarks by Perry and others centered on thanking those who have served in the armed forces.
“I was proud to have the opportunity to volunteer and do my duty,” said Perry, also a veteran. “If you will elect me your president, I will exhibit that duty every day and we will make America great again.”
Perry led his own portion of the motorcycle ride from nearby Perry, where he hosted a charity event earlier Saturday to benefit the Puppy Jake Foundation, which trains service dogs for veterans for free.
Wearing blue jeans, a black shirt, dark shades and a black helmet to match, Perry mounted a Harley-Davidson that belonged to Taylor Morris, a Naval explosive ordinance disposal technician from Cedar Falls who suffered serious injuries to his extremities while serving in Afghanistan.
About a half dozen canines joined an audience made up of mostly veterans to support the organization and hear what Perry had to say about creating jobs for men and women returning home from war, and ensuring veterans get the care they deserve.
“Every day I will go to that Oval Office and ask, ‘Are you getting everything done that you need to get done for the veterans of this country?’” Perry said.
By spotlighting the service of military men and women, Perry is highlighting that unique portion of his resume.
But a quick survey of the spectators at both events made it clear that Iowa voters know they have the luxury of being picky.
“It’s such a huge competition,” Crystal Hanson said. “There’s a lot of them in the same area of thought. So any of them that breakout could be good. There’s too many to narrow it down right now.”
Hanson, 51, who drove into Perry from nearby Guthrie Center, said she had heard of Perry’s job creation in Texas, but was anxious to see how his perspective has changed from four years ago. Hanson supported Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann in 2012.
“It’s like speed-dating for politics," said Matt Strawn, former chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, who has not endorsed a candidate. "These activists are spending time with all of the candidates — nobody is really getting married yet."
Perry has invested months in Iowa, meeting with voters, caucus leaders, business and religious leaders, Strawn said, but he's the 10th Republican to announce a run for the White House, and Iowans know they have options.
As Perry prepared to hit the road Saturday morning, his campaign unveiled his Iowa team. Among its newest members is Sam Clovis, a prominent Republican activist whose backing was sought by multiple candidates. Most of the rest of the team, including Bob Haus, Perry's top Iowa strategist, already have been working to lay the groundwork for Perry's 2016 bid in the Hawkeye State.
In the coming days, Perry will hit the first three states in the electoral process, with stops in New Hampshire planned Sunday, followed by a swing through South Carolina.
Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.