Campaign 2012

Romney stands firm amid Perry whirl

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed employees yesterday at Stanley Elevators in Merrimack, N.H. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed employees yesterday at Stanley Elevators in Merrimack, N.H. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
By Glen Johnson and Matt Viser
Globe Staff / August 17, 2011

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PLYMOUTH, N.H.- Mitt Romney’s plan for a no-news cruise toward a general election matchup with President Obama has been jolted by the ascent of Texas Governor Rick Perry, the latest entrant to the Republican presidential race.

Yet despite the strong record of job creation in Texas under Perry’s leadership and the new candidate’s formidable fund-raising skill, Romney says he plans to maintain the same strategy that has made him the front-runner so far.

“I’m not going to vary my vision for the American people based upon the political whims of the day, but instead based upon the experience I’ve had throughout my life,’’ Romney said Monday while touring New Hampshire.

Privately, Romney’s advisers seem to revel in the raised expectations for Perry, a gifted campaigner and the darling of the Tea Party movement and social conservatives. They cite the example of Sarah Palin, who was met with great fanfare when John McCain picked the Alaska governor as his running mate in 2008, only to falter after several gaffes and high-profile interviews.

Then there is Perry’s Texas swagger and penchant for brash statements, which may be too much for some voters still feeling Bush fatigue.

Perry caused a furor Monday when he strongly criticized Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

“To be honest with you, I know there’s a lot of talk and what have you about if this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what you all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas,’’ Perry said in Iowa. “I mean, printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous - or treason, in my opinion.’’

Aides to George W. Bush, the previous Texas governor, who appointed Bernanke when he was in the White House, condemned the remark.

“You don’t accuse the chairman of the Federal Reserve of being a traitor to his country, of being guilty of treason,’’ Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to Bush, told Fox News yesterday.

Tony Fratto, a former spokesman for the White House and Treasury Department, wrote on Twitter: “Gov. Perry’s comments about Chmn. Bernanke are inappropriate and un-presidential.’’

Romney, Perry, and the rest of the GOP field will be tested next month with three high-profile debates, including one at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Sept. 7 and two in the pivotal state of Florida.

Democrats themselves are already attacking Perry’s job-creation record in Texas, saying it has been rooted in low-wage jobs or those poached from other states.

And if Romney’s critics say he is vulnerable for imposing a mandate to buy health insurance in Massachusetts, Perry could face criticism for trying to mandate that all teenage girls in Texas receive the human papillomavirus vaccine to guard against the sexually transmitted infection.

Romney aides insist their candidate’s schedule this week shows he is not reacting to the weekend’s campaign tumult, in which Perry announced he was running, Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll, and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty quit the race.

After starting his week in New Hampshire, Romney is heading west for fund-raisers in Wyoming, Idaho, California, and Utah.

Although there are no signs Romney is planning to put more emphasis on Iowa, some outsiders are suggesting that could end up hurting him - which would be ironic given that it was his emphasis on Iowa in 2008 that was seen as the decision that doomed that campaign.

Romney “needs to compete in Iowa,’’ said Doug Gross, Romney’s Iowa state chairman in 2008, who is now unaffiliated. “If he lets Perry come out of Iowa strong, he may not be able to catch up.’’

Perry, a more spontaneous and sharp-tongued campaigner than Romney, already is attracting many of the Tea Party adherents and religious conservatives who want a heavier dose of right-wing inspiration in the GOP primaries and caucuses, especially Iowa’s. In recent days, Perry has also been emphasizing the fiscal issues that Romney frequently does.

“I’m waiting to see if Romney’s going to compete here. If not, I don’t have many options,’’ said Gross, who is unsure whether he would endorse Romney. “Right now, he’s not giving me the opportunity to do that. There are a lot of people like me out here right now.’’

A venture capitalist for 25 years before a four-year stint as Massachusetts governor, Romney has been arguing that he has the business bona fides to lead the country out of recession as well as enough understanding of government to execute his plan.

Perry, by contrast, has spent a decade as governor, preceded by stints as Texas agriculture commissioner and as a member of the state House of Representatives.

“Understanding day to day what it takes to build a business, have a business grow and succeed, why businesses fail, I’ve been on both sides of that,’’ Romney said Monday. “Not everything I’ve invested in or worked in has been successful, but I’ve learned how the economy works, and I believe that skill is what the nation is looking for.’’

Later, he said, “I have the credibility to talk about the economy in a way that almost nobody else on that stage will be able to do.’’

Perry pointed out his own work as a cotton farmer and retorted, “Texas is the real economy.’’

While Romney makes no direct appeal for Tea Party votes - as both Perry and Bachmann expressly do - he casts himself as someone who believes in the movement’s goals.

“One of the great things about the Tea Party in my view is that the Tea Party has exactly, in almost every respect, the same priorities as the rest of Republicans, many, many independents, and many Democrats. That is, government is too big, it’s taxing us too much,’’ Romney said yesterday in Merrimack. “As they get to know me better, I think I’ll get great support from the Tea Party.’’

Yesterday, Romney also took pains to praise the patriotism of Democrats.

Don Towle, a retired teacher and pastor from Alexandria, N.H., left a meeting with the candidate Monday convinced Romney was the best candidate.

“He just seems to have total command of the facts, and he’s very skilled,’’ he said.

Beforehand, Towle’s curiosity prompted him to look up Perry’s biography on the Internet.

“He’s too much like George Bush, I believe, not a very strong academic record,’’ said Towle. “I’m sure he gets along - a good ol’ boy - but he’s never had a job in the private sector. We don’t need any more on-the-job training.’’

The pro-Romney sentiment was echoed by another person who heard Romney earlier Monday, Karl Turgeon, an employee at New England Small Tube in Litchfield.

“He has an advanced education; he has poise,’’ Turgeon said. “I just find him extremely believable.’’

Glen Johnson can be reached at Matt Viser can be reached at top stories on Twitter

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