SIOUX CITY, Iowa - Reflecting on his struggles to gain traction in Iowa polls in the days leading up to the caucuses, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an avid athlete, compared his campaign to a marathon with Iowa being the first mile of the race.
"This is the first, let's say, mile one of the marathon and I've run a marathon before, and I felt great at mile one and, as a matter of fact, I felt pretty great at mile 17 and 18," Perry said today at a meet and greet at the Stoney Creek Inn here. "At mile 21, you kind of start hitting that wall a little bit, and we'll see who's still running at mile 21. I finished my marathon, and I expect to finish this marathon as well."
Perry placed fifth in the final Des Moines Register Poll released Saturday, gaining 11 percent of support while Rick Santorum surged to third place, a spot Perry has his eye on for Tuesday night's caucuses.
Perry , who is vying for the same conservative evangelical voters as Santorum, has consistently hammered Santorum in the past five days and launched his most forceful critique of the former senator of Pennsylvania today, accusing him of "fleecing" the American people.
"I don't understand how you can come to Iowa and say, 'I'm a fiscal conservative' when you voted eight times to raise the debt limit. I mean, he's raised the debt limit more than Obama's raised the debt limit in his years of being in the United States Congress," Perry said. "Rick, if you're a real fiscal conservative, I understand what pork-barrel politics is all about. I scratch your back, you scratch mine, that is not conservative governing. That is fleecing America and it's got to stop and when I'm president of the United States earmarks are gone."
During the question-and-answer session, he took the opportunity to slam another rival sitting atop the polls - Ron Paul - by criticizing his foreign policy positions and accusing him of being "farther left" on matters of foreign policy than President Obama.
Urging voters not to settle for a candidate who doesn't uphold all of their values, Perry painted himself as the "authentic conservative" amid a sea of candidates.
After a misstep in the introduction when Mike Skaggs, the chairman of the Woodbury County GOP, described Perry as the "next governor of the United States," Perry was introduced by Steve Forbes, who quickly corrected Skaggs by saying the Texas governor would be the future "president of the United States."
A slew of Texans accompanied Perry to the event, including his wife, daughter, son and daughter-in-law, and a number of Texas lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
As Perry introduced Marcus Luttrell, a Navy Seal who received the Navy Cross after being the lone survivor of a firefight, Perry choked up speaking about his mission in Afghanistan. "By the grace of God, he was saved for what reason we still don't know yet, but it's about serving his country continuously. It's about standing up for our veterans. It's about making sure that America never forgets that there are extraordinary men and women in every generation," Perry said.
Perry will conclude his bus tour through Iowa today with two additional stops - a meet and greet in Carroll and a rally in the town bearing his own name - Perry - as he asks Iowans to caucus for him Tuesday. "I'll make this pact with you," he said. "If you will have my back tomorrow at the caucuses, I will have your back for the next four years in Washington, D.C."