MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Republican White House hopeful Rick Perry swept through New Hampshire Saturday with a message of smaller government and lower taxes as he tries to revitalize his campaign.
The Texas governor’s platform of fiscal conservatism was warmly received by friendly crowds at a town hall, chili fest and two other events in the high-stakes state, where a good or bad primary showing can influence momentum.
Perry has work to do in a state dominated by his chief rival, businessman and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, as the pair and a slew of others battle for the right to challenge President Barack Obama in November 2012.
Perry’s swing through the tiny northeastern US state comes as a new poll suggests he may have surrendered his national frontrunner status to Romney.
At the series of events, Perry — on his second straight day in the state — focused on showcasing his gubernatorial achievements and how he differs from Obama.
“Freedom from over-taxation, freedom from over-regulation, freedom from over-litigation — that ought to be the battle cry that we have from now until November of 2012,” he said, touting his record on tax cuts and jobs creation.
Drawing a pen from his suit jacket, Perry vowed to sign an executive order to gut Obama’s controversial health care law and make “Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can.”
Such bread-and-butter lines drew cheers and applause.
Perry took time to shake hands with voters, autograph copies of his book, “Fed Up!” and field questions on everything from immigration and global warming — topics on which he has stirred controversy in the past.
Software developer Paul Sepe said he was leaning towards casting his vote for Perry after hearing him, telling AFP: “We need someone who can stand toe-to-toe with Obama. Perry is getting there.”
Small business owner Dave Connors said Perry’s answers had made an impression.
“He turned me around. I came in saying I wouldn’t vote for him, but am leaving saying maybe,” Connors said.
Perry will need many such turnaround stories if he has any chance of overtaking Romney in New Hampshire.
Romney leads in the state with 41 percent of support among likely Republican voters, a Suffolk University/7News poll released on September 21 found. Perry came in a distant fourth place, with just eight percent.
Meanwhile, a Fox News poll released earlier this week found Perry in second place nationally among Republicans at 19 percent — a 10-point drop from the previous month. Romney was in the lead at 23 percent.
Perry has seen his fledgling candidacy tested after widely panned debate performances and a weaker-than-expected second place showing in the Florida straw poll won by former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive Herman Cain.
Authorities in Florida have moved the vital battleground’s presidential primary date up to January 31.
That means New Hampshire will likely go earlier than expected as well — in early January or even December — to protect its first-in-the nation status.
Adding to Perry’s New Hampshire difficulties, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman decided this week to move his campaign headquarters from Florida to New Hampshire to try to score an upset that could revive his anemic campaign.
“Perry’s work is cut out for him in New Hampshire,” said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center. “It’s a real stretch seeing Romney losing this.”
But Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, believes Perry has time to get traction in the state.
“Perry doesn’t need touchdown passes now,” Smith said. “What he has to do is work on being a solid candidate who can consistently stay on message.”