August 22, 2011

He left his cowboy boots in Austin, but Gov. Rick Perry brought some Texas straight talk to New Hampshire. “Live free or die, you’ve got to love that,” Perry told an audience in Bedford last week, adding that the state motto reminded him “of a little place down in Texas called the Alamo.” Perry’s promise to make Washington “as inconsequential in your lives as possible” is resonating in libertarian New Hampshire. He has moved into second place here after just a few days in the race, registering 18 percent support among Granite State Republicans.

The secret to Perry’s success? One word: jobs. As Perry explained in Portsmouth, he has “ten years of leading a state that inarguably has the best record of job creation in America — no offense to any other candidate, but no one else is close to that.” As if on cue to prove Perry’s point, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that Texas had added another 30,000 jobs in July — the state’s 10th straight month of job growth.

At Epoch Homes, a Pembroke modular home-builder, Perry held a town hall where he explained the Texas model: keep spending low and put a stop to over-taxation, over-litigation and over-regulation. “We’re over-regulating ourselves out of work,” he said, pointing out that new regulations under the Obama administration last year cost American businesses $26 billion — money that could have created 650,000 good-paying jobs. That made sense to Dave Quinn, who has worked at Epoch three years and says regulations are preventing Epoch from expanding and hiring more workers. “I like his big push on deregulation,” Quinn told me. “I’m undecided, but that push to give control back to the people, that’s what’s really swaying my position to support Governor Perry.”

The power of Perry’s jobs message is not lost on the White House, which is why Obama officials spent much of the week trying to shoot down the “Texas miracle” — arguing that most new Texas jobs are low wage and have little to do with Perry’s policies. So it is significant that while Perry was campaigning in New Hampshire, back in Texas the Democratic head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Richard Fisher, gave a speech supporting Perry’s claims. Over the past two years, Fisher said, “Texas has accounted for 49.9 percent of net new jobs created in the United States,” and the vast majority were equal to or above the national average for weekly wages. “These jobs are not low-paying jobs,” he said. Moreover, Fisher added, the reason so many people and businesses have been moving to Texas is that “private sector capital and jobs will go to where taxes and spending and regulatory policy are most conducive to growth.” Translation: Texas is creating half the new jobs in America, thanks to the pro-growth policies Perry presided over. (Or, as Perry put it here, “They aren’t coming because we have good barbecue and warm weather in December.”)

Contrast Perry’s good week with President Obama’s dismal week. As Obama wrapped up his American jobs tour aboard his Canadian-made bus, Gallup released a new poll that found that 71 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy — the worst ratings ever during his presidency. Not to worry, Obama told the American people, he has a new jobs plan — but he won’t tell us what it is until he gets back from Martha’s Vineyard. Some commentators have speculated that Obama wants to run against Perry. It’s hard to see why. When seven out of 10 Americans disapprove of your economic record, you probably don’t want to run against a governor whose state is first in the nation in job creation.

Perry is off to a strong start. Recall that this was supposed to be Michele Bachmann’s week, when her upstart victory in the Ames straw poll catapulted her onto the front pages and the top tier of the GOP field. Instead, Perry stole Bachmann’s thunder, and dominated the political conversation. But one successful week on the campaign trail does not a president make. Several times during his New Hampshire swing, the governor let his critics shift the discussion to his views on evolution and the science of global warming instead of jobs. And his gaffe in Iowa referring to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as “almost treacherous, treasonous” if he prints more money raised concerns among Republicans about his shoot-from-the-hip style of campaigning. Perry needs to show he can stay disciplined. As he explained in Portsmouth, “It’s all about jobs. The message every day is going to be about jobs.” That is the message that can sell in New Hampshire.