Rick Perry nudges onto the stage in Iowa

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas chats with Erl Schmiesing during a stop at the Lincoln Day Dinnerin Waterloo, Iowa. Perry is now on a list of Republicans seeking the presidential nomination.
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas chats with Erl Schmiesing during a stop at the Lincoln Day Dinnerin Waterloo, Iowa. Perry is now on a list of Republicans seeking the presidential nomination. (CHIP SOMODEVILLA / Getty Images)
Posted: August 15, 2011


WATERLOO, Iowa - The room went dark, and aides radioed the bus outside: Texas Gov. Rick Perry had finished, and the candidate's special TV-friendly lights were a "go." Elvis Presley's "Promised Land" blasted from the speakers, and Rep. Michele Bachmann came into the Electric Ballroom.

The two new heavyweights in the Republican presidential race collided at the Black Hawk County GOP dinner Sunday night, a dramatic encounter that could presage their struggle for dominance among conservatives in the nominating process.

The GOP race came into clearer focus Sunday as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty dropped out after a disappointing third-place finish in the straw poll.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, fresh off a better-than-expected fourth-place finish in the Ames Straw Poll the day before, also got into the act, postponing the drive home to Penn Hills, Pa., with his family to grab a slice of the spotlight.

Perry announced his campaign Saturday in South Carolina, the same day Bachmann triumphed in Ames and became the front-runner in Iowa. Then he asked to speak at the county fund-raiser here in Bachmann's place of birth, causing her to ask for a place onstage to counter him.

"The president of the United States has a pen," Perry said, to hearty cheers from a crowd of about 300 people. "It's called the veto pen, and I will use it until the ink runs out if that's what it takes to ensure we're not spending all the money."

Speaking of growing up as a humble country boy in Paint Creek, Texas, Perry stressed his service as an Air Force pilot and said one reason he was running was to "make sure every man and woman who puts on the uniform highly respects the president."

Bachmann repeatedly stressed her Iowa roots, mentioning her grandmother's changing snow tires in a nightgown when she was in her 80s. Hard work is in the "genes here in Iowa," she said.

"The poison water of Washington didn't change me," Bachmann said. "I went there and fought. I fought when it wasn't convenient . . . we are running out of time."

She closed by presenting "the biggest, fattest apple pie I could get" to the oldest Republican mother in the crowd, who was 101.

Santorum stressed his record of accomplishments on social issues in the Senate, and said that the United States is a moral nation; states don't have the right to legalize same-sex marriage, he said. "Without God at the center, without him giving us the rights . . . we simply have the tyranny of the governors over the governed" - even with the Constitution, Santorum said.

Perry and Bachmann will go toe-to-toe for the all-important evangelical vote in Iowa in what some strategists are calling a "holy war." Each of them has claimed a divine calling to run for president.

Earlier Sunday, Bachmann faced inquisitions on the Sunday news talk shows.

"I think what people see in me is I'm a real person, I'm authentic," Bachmann said on ABC News' This Week program. "And I think people want someone who will go to Washington and represent their values."

She said she would spur the economy by reducing corporate taxes, repealing new restrictions on the financial industry contained in the Dodd-Frank legislation, and cutting the cost of entitlement programs such as Medicare.

On NBC's Meet the Press, Bachmann brushed off questions from host David Gregory about whether God speaks directly to her, and her comments in 2004 that the gay "lifestyle" was "part of Satan." Bachmann stammered but said, "I'm not standing in as anyone's judge."

Santorum said in an interview that he came to Waterloo to "plant the flag, to remind everyone that we're in the first tier." He added that the campaign's fund-raising has picked up; Saturday was the biggest online take so far.

"I'll be calling a lot of people on the way back to Pennsylvania," Santorum said.

Black Hawk Republicans expected to raise $10,000 from the event, with dinner tickets sold at $30 apiece and standing-room tickets for $20.

The county party found out Tuesday that Perry wanted to address the gathering, and then Bachmann inserted herself. Her campaign has been difficult to deal with, said Judd Saul, a spokesman for the county party, refusing to say when she would arrive at the ballroom, and refusing to mingle with the crowd before speaking, only after.

"It is the worst campaign to work with," Saul said. "I don't get this from any of the other campaigns."

Contact politics writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718, tfitzgerald@phillynews.com, or @tomfitzgerald on Twitter. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/BigTent

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