Perry pushes his status as a conservative outsider

By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, campaigning in Iowa's heavily conservative northwest corner the day before Tuesday's caucuses, urged conservatives to support one of their own who hasn't been part of the Washington and Wall Street establishments.

Perry continued to have trouble with the details as he addressed potential supporters in a Sioux City hotel lobby Monday afternoon. In challenging rival Rick Santorum's support for home-state projects funded with federal money, the Texas governor referred to "the Bridge to Nowhere in Arizona." Actually, the project that became a symbol of runaway pork-barrel spending was planned for Alaska.

He got that detail right later in Carroll as his campaign bus rumbled toward a caucus-eve rally in Perry, Iowa. But the error underscored concerns about Perry's mastery of basic facts.

During one debate, he pledged to eliminate three federal agencies but failed to remember which ones he was talking about. He confused Iraq and Iran during a town hall meeting in South Carolina, and last weekend, he confused the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

That's part of the reason Perry has tried to make the focus of his speeches his rivals' weaknesses.

Perry singled out Santorum, whose recent rise in polling appears to come at the expense of the Texas governor and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. The three are widely seen as competing for the more conservative caucus-goers, particularly evangelicals driven by social issues, in the contest to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama.

"He's raised the debt limit more than Obama's raised the debt limit," Perry said of Santorum, pointing to the former Pennsylvania congressman and senator's eight votes to increase the nation's borrowing power.

Turning to another rival, Rep. Ron Paul, Perry said the Texas congressman's foreign policy was tantamount to "appeasement."

"We will be living in the 1930s again," he said. "Let me tell you, when Ron Paul is further to the left on foreign policy than Barack Obama, that ought to tell you something. That is a dangerous situation."

Perry challenged his rivals' potential and cited his own record as Texas' longest-serving governor in arguing for his candidacy.

"Why would you settle for anything other than an authentic conservative who will fight for your views and values and not make an apology for them, not one time?" he asked. "Are we going to replace a Democrat insider with a Republican insider and expect to get any change in Washington, D.C.?"

Continuing his core argument that he has experience creating jobs and dealing with issues that face the nation, he said: "It's easy to get up and say, 'You know, gee, I wish I'd have been on the field, I would have run that touchdown in.' ... We done it in Texas."

The race remains fluid and Iowans are still shopping for candidates.

"I think he's an excellent candidate, but I'm still not decided," said Paul Massey, a 65-year-old eyeglass salesman from Sioux City who visited Perry. "He is saying what I want to hear and he is sincere for sure. But I want to make sure I vote for and caucus for someone who is a winner."