That was the understatement of the evening as the Texas governor and newly minted candidate for president arrived for his debut visit to the state with the nation’s first presidential caucuses. Waterloo might be Rep. Michele Bachmann’s home town, but Perry approached the crowd as if it were all his, which of course he hopes will be the case by next winter’s caucuses.
Sunday provided Iowans with their first opportunity to compare directly the two Republican candidates whose performances dominated the most significant weekend of Campaign 2012 and who have injected genuine energy and excitement into a race that has been notably lacking in both.
The optics favored Perry. He arrived early. He mingled and schmoozed, wrapping his arms around the backs of the Iowa activists, leaning in to share a word, introducing his handsome family, shedding his suit coat for the questions and answers.
In the space of a few minutes, he mentioned his boyhood connections to 4-H and the Boy Scouts and his later service as an Air Force pilot. His remarks had the makings of an effective stump speech, especially for someone so new to the presidential trail.
He sat and politely listened to the other speakers, who included both Bachmann and another GOP rival, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, as well as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. When the program ended, he quickly exited out the back, his security force helping to shield him from the shouted questions of reporters.
Bachmann arrived late, just minutes before her scheduled speech, preceded by the thumping beat of Elvis’s “Promised Land,” which always marks the arrival of her big blue bus. On stage, she acknowledged the presence of the Lincoln impersonator but not Perry or Santorum. She spoke of heart and home, of family reunions and Iowans dancing at the ballroom. She rooted herself in Iowa.
She finished with flair, offering an apple pie to the oldest person in the audience. That turned out to be 100-year-old Mary Canfield. Bachmann signed scores of autographs and then, before leaving, answered three questions from the press. She did not deviate from her talking points.
It was no surprise that the Bachmann-Perry encounter in Waterloo generated so much interest and anticipation. Perry’s entry Saturday has reshuffled the field. If he lives up to the advance hype, he could provide a stiff challenge to Mitt Romney, the apparent front-runner. Bachmann’s victory in the Ames straw poll validated her as a conservative force to be reckoned with. For now she is the person to beat in Iowa.