PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — When Rick Perry arrived in New Hampshire one day ago, he repeated the state’s “live free or die” motto, telling an audience, “You’ve got to love that.
What Perry may not have loved, however, is the treatment he received just 24-hours later at a meet-and-greet stop in this picturesque Seacoast town where he encountered about two-dozen protesters who shouted at him, held signs with slogans like “Another Texas idiot for sale,” and followed him into a cafe to yell some more.
The protesters, some of whom were senior citizens and members of the New Hampshire Alliance For Retired American gathered on a sidewalk more than an hour before Perry arrived at the event. (The group alerted reporters to their presence here with a press release the day before.)
As the presidential candidate from Texas walked into a local restaurant, Popovers on the Square, he was forced to shake hands with voters amid shouts of “Hands off Social Security and Medicare!” and “You’re a threat to America” from the anti-Perry forces who gathered just a few feet away from him. It was the first organized protest of this kind since Perry arrived in the Granite State.
Inside the café, Gail Mitchell and a companion grilled him: “You said Social Security was unconstitutional.”
“Social Security’s going to be there for those folks,” Perry answered his inquisitors, making reference to the elderly.
“But you said Social Security is unconstitutional,” Mitchell repeated.
“I don’t think I — I’m sorry, you must have,” Perry said before stopping himself.
Instead of elaborating, Perry stuffed a generous piece of popover in his mouth. (Perry called them “pop ups.”)
“I’ve got a big mouthful,” Perry said and then ordering a glass of water. He later tripped over one of the women standing at his side pressing him on Social Security.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Perry said to her.
In an interview with Newsweek last year, Perry was asked about his opinion on the constitutionality of programs like Social Security and Medicare.
"I don’t think our founding fathers when they were putting the term 'general welfare' in there were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care," Perry said in the interview. "What they clearly said was that those were issues that the states need to address. Not the federal government. I stand very clear on that. From my perspective, the states could substantially better operate those programs if that’s what those states decided to do."
At a house party in New Hampshire last Saturday, Perry referred to Social Security as a Ponzi scheme.
As he worked the room another man shouted: “Let them eat cake Governor Perry, let them eat cake? Your attacks on the middle class, working for the rich people in Texas.”
Perry did his best to ignore the heckling, and he also did his best to ignore questions from the awaiting press, including one about his views on the White House’s increasing pressure on the Syrian regime. He has studiously avoided taking most reporters’ questions at his campaign events since he left Iowa earlier this week.
But others who met the Texas governor Thursday morning were more friendly. One man posed for a picture with his children telling him, “We appreciate you, Mr. Perry.” Another New Hampshire man referred to him as “Mr. President.”
Rick Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan "gaggled" with a group of reporters as Perry lunched at a diner in Dover, NH and responded to questions being raised about whether the governor believes Social Security to be unconstitutional.
"I've never heard him say that," Sullivan said.
"I've never heard that come up and I don't expect that will come up," he added.
"I'm not aware of that terminology existing anywhere."
"The governor believes a robust debate about entitlements, a debate about extending the retirement age for younger people and for other changes that will make Social Security more stable and financially sound going forward. He has said that we need to protect benefits for those who are at or near retirement so they won't have anything to worry about."
Sullivan also addressed some of the criticism Perry has gotten from fellow Republicans for his comments about Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.
"The governor has clearly made a big influential splash this week and has quickly become a major candidate for president. We would expect to draw fire from the white house — as we have — even the other republicans in the race. It's part of the process," said Sullivan.