SPENCER, Iowa - With his eyes on a spot in the top three in Iowa come January, Rick Perry made it evident Saturday that he's looking to knock Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul from their perches atop the Iowa polls.
The Texas governor opened a new line of attack on the two, linking Gingrich and Paul for their support of earmark spending in Congress.
"Earmarks is a, it's a plague. It's a plague on Congress," Perry said speaking at La Chiesa restaurant in Iowa. "Newt was the originator of earmarks back in the 90's. I mean, if there was a granddaddy of earmarks, he would be it, and I mean, Dr. Paul, he's still birthing earmarks as we speak."
Perry has sparingly criticized Paul, a fellow Texan politician, but the Texas governor picked up the attacks this week, first condemning his comments on Iran at a coffee shop Friday and then laying into his penchant for earmarks at Saturday's event in Spencer.
"The Republicans stood up and said, "you know what, we're going to do away with earmarks,' but there were four Republicans that didn't follow that, and Dr. Paul was one of them," Perry continued. "He had earmarks I think over the last two years approaching half a billion worth of these special interest earmarks. One of them was for two million dollars for bike racks, trash cans, and decorative street lighting in one of his cities in his district. Now, I'll be real honest with you. I don't think that's where our monies need to be spent when we've got the economic crisis that we've got in our hands, and we've got to have the people who have the discipline to just say no to spending until we get this debt crisis in this country under control."
"For some people, earmarks have become an art form and Newt doubled them in the four years when he was in congress. He solicited them for members of the legislature who had tough reelections," Perry said. "I think Americans are tired of that kind of special interest spending."
Asked by a voter if he'd appoint Herman Cain as Secretary of Defense, Perry said it's "a little bit early" to begin making decisions about his cabinet but remarked that Cain possesses the outsider characteristics he'd want his appointees to embody.
"That's the type of men and women that I'll be asking to come to sacrifice one more time for their country to get this country back on track and to make the hard decision and make the wise decision about all the self dealing and get rid of the fraud and corruption that we're seeing in Washington, D.C."
Perry noted that gender would not play a factor in his selection of a vice presidential candidate when asked by a voter if he would select a female running mate.
"What comes into question is your values, what do you believe in. It will be someone that if the good Lord decides to call me home while I'm president of the United States, you won't notice any difference in the philosophy or the way that Washington needs to be less consequential in your life. You might just have a little different accent."
Perry popped into Sisters Mainstreet Cafe early Saturday morning, talking with voters about growing up in Paint Creek, Texas and sharing concerns about wild boars infiltrating urban areas.
While at the coffee shop, he was asked by John Kruse, a retired mail carrier from Spencer, to autograph a piece of paper, but when Perry went to scribble his name on a receipt, Michele Bachmann, who is campaigning in two of the same towns as Perry, had already signed her name to it.
"You get Michele on that side. I'll get over here," Perry said while he turned the receipt over and signed "Rick Perry God Speed." "We spent the night at the same… We had both the buses out the front, so we see each other out on the trail there. She's a good gal."
In fact, Perry and Bachmann both spent the night at the AmericInn in Spencer. Perry's bus was parked in the parking lot while Bachmann's bus sat in the field next door.
"It was a real privilege shaking those representing our party," Kruse said. Though he remains undecided, Kruse appreciated Perry's "forthrightness" and the Iowan values embodied by Bachmann.