SPENCER, Iowa — Texas Gov. Rick Perry went on the attack Saturday, criticizing two of his rivals for backing earmarks and casting himself as the only true outsider in the presidential race, as distant from Washington culture as he is from Wall Street.
During a midday campaign stop at an Italian restaurant, Perry accused Newt Gingrich of being the “granddaddy of earmarks” while he was House speaker. He also called Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) a hypocrite for condemning political gamesmanship while seeking federal funds for pet projects such as bike racks and “decorative street lights” in his district.
“For some people, earmarks have become an art form,” Perry said. “What we need is someone who will walk into Washington, D.C., and say no to all this special-interest funding.”
Said Paul spokesman Jesse Benton, “This is just another example of Gov. Perry being out of his depth and not understanding the issues. “It's shocking how little he understands, and he keeps embarrassing our state.”
The congressman has said previously that he opposes earmarks in principle but considers it appropriate to seek them as long as the practice is allowed. Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond noted that overall earmark spending hit a low during Gingrich’s tenure as speaker.
Paul and Gingrich both fare better in polls of Iowa voters, but Perry is making a last-minute bid to gain ground, embarking on an eight-day bus tour across the state and pouring more than a million dollars into TV ads. His events have drawn many undecided voters lured by the ads and his solid performance in Thursday’s presidential debate.
A recent American Research Group poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers put Perry in fourth place after Gingrich, Paul and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The survey also showed that 12 percent are undecided, leaving Perry or any of the candidates an opening to surge ahead.
Perry did have kind words for one former rival – Herman Cain. Asked whether he would appoint Cain secretary of defense, as the former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive recently said is his goal, Perry demurred.
“I think it’s a little bit early to be deciding on your cabinet, but he has all the characteristics of the type of people I’d like to bring forward,” Perry said.