DERRY, N.H. — If Rick Perry has a base in New Hampshire, it’s made up of women and veterans.
At a Friday night campaign event, an adoring crowd ate up every word from the former Texas governor. Perry playfully referred to each female supporter he met as "girl," no matter her age. And when the party’s hostess presented him with a New Hampshire-shaped pin, he said, “Pin me.”
And with only two veterans in the GOP nomination hunt, veterans say they have a special affinity for Perry, a former Air Force cargo pilot.
Perry’s New Hampshire political team ensured that parallel-parked cars outside snaked down the street for blocks. But attendance isn’t commitment among New Hampshire’s high-maintenance, fickle electorate.
Even the event’s host, retired Air Force fighter pilot Rob Hampton, is still on the fence.
“He’s on our short list,” he said of Perry.
New Hampshire and Iowa, the other early primary state, are small enough in population that Perry has enough time as an out-of-office former official to make his case. Candidates like Ted Cruz, meanwhile, are tied down with official duties.
Betty Gay, a relocated Texan who now lives in New Hampshire, was at the event and said she liked Perry’s economic positions.
“That’s my concern,” the retired Lamar University graduate said.
New Hampshire is traditionally more economically conservative than Iowa. Perry cautiously answered a question on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent gay marriage ruling.
“I agree with those four justices that were on the losing side is who I agree with,” Perry said. “But the fact is, we’re a rule-of-law country, and they make decisions up there that from time to time I don’t agree with. But we are a country of rules and laws, and if we get away from that, we’ve lost everything that we have.”
He then promised to appoint conservative judges as president.
“He finally got to the answer where he said we are a nation of laws, even if we don’t like them,” Gay said. “So I thought that was the answer. But I got the impression he didn’t really want to come out and say it’s a non-issue … because he knows some people here are very upset about it.”
In contrast, New Hampshire state Rep. Ken Weyler is all-in for Perry.
Weyler does not want Perry to just do well in New Hampshire – his aim is for Perry to run the table.
Weyler is part of a conservative initiative called the “603 Alliance.” 603 is the state’s area code, and the group seeks to consolidate conservative support behind a single candidate so that Democratic and registered independent voters cannot cross over and determine the nominee in the state’s open Republican primary.
But six months out from that election, Perry lags behind his GOP rivals in state polling. A decisive victory over the crowded and talented GOP field is a tall order for Perry.
“We have to start emphasizing, we want a resume, not a slogan. We want something real,” Weyler said. “And we want a record of accomplishment. We want a veteran. … I’m trying to get the veteran vote behind him.”
Like a Perry campaign swing in March, the candidate’s articulate and wide-ranging stump speech played well in this setting. Voter by voter, Perry is effectively erasing memories of his 2011 debate flop.
“For crying out loud!” Gay said when asked about Perry’s 2011 troubles. “If anybody can say they have never been deep into a discussion and all of the sudden their mind switches to a different track …”
“Baloney!” she exclaimed.
Perry’s Texas rival for the GOP nomination, Cruz, will spend the Fourth of July doing campaign and book tour events in Greenville, South Carolina.