WATERLOO, IOWA The two fastest-rising stars in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination worked to broaden their appeal Sunday in Iowa.
Michele Bachmann, fresh off her win in a closely watched test vote, portrayed herself as a mainstream Midwesterner. Newcomer Rick Perry introduced himself as a common-sense executive focused on jobs.
Both candidates attended the same county GOP dinner in northern Iowa one day after the race was upended by Bachmann’s victory in the Iowa straw poll and Perry’s announcement of his candidacy.
And while both candidates have strong ties to the influential evangelical wing of the party and are popular with upstart tea party supporters, they told activists at the Black Hawk County GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner in Waterloo that they have credibility on the party’s leading priority: jobs.
“I happen to think the biggest issue facing this country is that we are facing economic turmoil, and if we don’t have a president that doesn’t get this country working, we’re in trouble,” Perry told about 300 Republicans in Waterloo’s Electric Park Ballroom. “And I’ve got a track record.”
Bachmann touted her experience running her family’s small business in Minnesota
“We started our own successful small company,” she told reporters. “We know how to build from scratch, putting capital together and starting a business from scratch and building it up so that we can actually offer jobs to people.”
A segment of the GOP’s establishment and economic conservatives have sat on the sidelines in the early months of the race, waiting for an alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Support for Romney, positioning himself as the Republican most associated with job creation, has been muted in some parts of the GOP primary electorate.
Perry was mobbed by dozens of reporters for his first appearance as a candidate in the leadoff caucus state.
It was a sharp contrast to another part of the room, where presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, moved through the crowd with less commotion.
Perry struggled to move from table to table. “It’s going to be a big time,” Perry told Cedar Falls Republican Jeanie Balthazor.
In the 24 hours between Perry’s announcement in Charleston, S.C., and his arrival in Iowa, the ground had shifted profoundly.
Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, beat her home-state rival Tim Pawlenty by more than 2-to-1 in the Iowa straw poll, an early test of caucus campaign strength. Pawlenty, a former two-term Minnesota governor, had put all his chips on a strong showing in the poll. But his distant third-place finish, behind Texas Rep. Ron Paul, prompted Pawlenty to quit the race Sunday morning.
Bachmann, on the other hand, rose sharply to the top of Iowa polls since launching her campaign in June, and made an aggressive push for straw poll support with evangelical pastors and Christian home-school backers.
Bachmann waited on her campaign bus in the ballroom parking lot while Perry spoke at the fundraiser, and entered the hall to her trademark introduction theme, Elvis Presley’s version of “Promised Land.”
A vocal opponent of the deal reached in Congress to raise the national debt ceiling, Bachmann sought to broaden her appeal to include budget hawks, and noted her tea party backing to project herself as appealing to a range of voters.
“It’s a movement coming together. It’s a movement of social conservatives, a movement of fiscal conservatives, particularly on the debt ceiling issue,” she said.
But she also stressed her opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, issues Perry did not touch in his remarks. “Without social conservatives it will be very difficult to beat Barack Obama in 2012,” Bachmann said.
On Sunday, Gallup’s daily tracking poll had President Barack Obama’s approval rating at 39 percent, his lowest in more than a year.
Pawlenty had aggressively criticized Bachmann as light on experience and accomplishment in her three terms in the U.S. House, compared with his two terms as governor in a politically divided state. Perry, Texas’ longest-serving governor, is viewed as an establishment candidate who could be attractive to former backers of Pawlenty.
Bachmann said experience as a governor — a job held by the last two two-term Republican presidents — is not a prerequisite for the White House.