MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Rick Perry worked to get his campaign back on track during a swing through New Hampshire on Friday and Saturday after recent setbacks, including a poor debate performance in Orlando last week and a disappointing second-place finish in the Florida straw poll.
The effort appeared to enjoy some success, as the Texas governor fielded questions on climate change, Social Security and immigration with renewed confidence and articulation during four speeches and question-and-answer sessions with Granite State voters.
On immigration, for example, the governor did not back off his positions but instead offered some additional explanation when questioned by voters about his support for a 2001 law that gives in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants – the so-called DREAM Act.
“Those young people who are not being subsidized in any form or fashion, they’re paying full state tuition to go to those state universities in the state of Texas,” he said. “We either kick them to the curb and pick up the cost of whatever that’s going to be later down the road … They were going to cost us more money if we did not allow them to be educated and become part of the workforce in the state of Texas.”
Perry, speaking to crowd during the house party hosted by 2010 New Hampshire Senate candidate Ovid Lamontagne, added that the solution was right for his state, if not others, and a necessity in the face of the federal government’s failure to secure the border.
He also went on the offensive with his immigration positions, seeking to establish himself as tough on lawbreakers. Supporter John Stephens, the state’s 2010 GOP nominee for governor, opened two of Perry’s four sessions with voters over the weekend by talking up the governor’s votes against allowing illegal immigrants to have drivers’ licenses and the hundreds of millions spent in Texas to secure the border.
“That is leadership,” Stephens said.
Perry himself sought to draw a line in the sand. “I am against the DREAM Act at the federal level. It is nothing more than amnesty,” he said during a meet-and-greet at the Atkinson Country Club in Atkinson, N.H.
Some Perry supporters appeared relieved at how well they said the governor handled himself in the town-hall format.
“The Rick Perry I see in the debates and the Rick Perry I see today is different,” said New Hampshire state Sen. Tom Deblois, who represents South Manchester and Litchfield and attended the reception in Manchester. “If Rick Perry would continue to speak in debates the way he has spoken today on his passion on the policies and principles that he stands for, I think he would do a lot better.”
Nevertheless, Perry’s share of controversial statements that get him off-message may not be over. In Manchester at his final event of the day, he raised the possibility of sending U.S. troops to Mexico to help fight the drug war there. That suggestion may not sit well with people who think the U.S. military is already overextended.
Perry’s questioning of the science behind climate change came up several times, but there, too, the governor stuck to his guns. He cited — but did not provide the name of — a Nobel laureate who allegedly reversed his previous support of man-made global warming theories in recent weeks, and painted legislation addressing climate change as a matter of economics.
“Here is the greater issue,” Perry told voters in Atkinson. “Are we as a country willing to take this science as incontrovertible, and put into place cap-and-trade type legislation that will devastate this country economically when we live in a world with China and India that will not participate at all?”
It is a position he will likely have to defend going forward as he seeks to prove his electability with independent voters. In Atkinson, local voter Jim Graczyk asked Perry how he planned to sell such voters on his more conservative ideas.
After the event, Graczyk said, “I think this is a center-right country, and I don’t think the Republican candidate is going to win if they are perceived as way, way far right.” As to Perry’s response, he said, “I feel a little bit better, but I still have concerns.”
After taking multiple questions from seniors Friday night at a town hall, Perry sought to put to rest concerns about his stance on Social Security – which he earlier dubbed a “Ponzi scheme” – as he assured voters that people at or near retirement would be able to collect benefits.
Not surprisingly, Perry kept up his attacks on President Obama, promising to overturn the Affordable Care Act –- a line that drew robust applause at every stop. He also accused the president of practicing “muddled, aimless, wavering” foreign policy, against allies like Israel and rebuked the administration for not supporting the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009.
Noticeably absent from all of Perry’s speeches in New Hampshire was his attacks on Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, which have intensified in recent weeks as Perry sought to portray his chief rival as a flip-flopper. It was perhaps a recognition that attacks on Romney, who was polling at 41 percent statewide in a recent Suffolk University New Hampshire poll,, might not be well-received.
Perry’s next major test in the state will be October 11, when he will participate in a debate hosted by Bloomberg News and the Washington Post that is scheduled to take place at Dartmouth University.