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Perry makes first major policy speech

By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / October 15, 2011

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WASHINGTON - Governor Rick Perry of Texas sought yesterday to reinvigorate his once-promising presidential campaign, making a pitch for a major expansion of oil and gas drilling and then immediately flying to a state vital to his campaign: Iowa.

The energy and jobs speech near Pittsburgh was the candidate’s first major policy address, following repeated complaints from rivals and others that he needed to lay out his plan for the stuttering economy. Combining the speech with a blitz on national talk shows, Perry tried to project a candidate in command of the number one issue facing voters - the economy - and a campaigner ready to robustly contend in the early contests and across the nation.

“They’re trying to regain the initiative,’’ said Terry Holt, a Washington-based GOP consultant who is not aligned in the race. “The guy has $17 million, and he can still spend it to introduce himself in a lot of important early matchups. They have good people and they can organize.

“But the stakes are high and time is short.’’

Perry’s campaign has been staggered by a perception among some influential conservatives that he has inadequately defended parts of his record, such as a more moderate stance on immigration and support for a mandated vaccine for teenage girls. The candidate has also been hurt by weak or indifferent debate performances.

To reconnect with his conservative base, Perry’s campaign is expected to dip into his deep war chest - the campaign confirmed yesterday that his $17 million in fund-raising topped all GOP rivals last quarter - to unleash a television ad campaign in the coming weeks. The ads offer the candidate greater control over his message, particularly focusing on the theme of job creation that guided the early days of his campaign. Perry stressed that theme in his speech yesterday.

“My plan is based on this simple premise: Make what Americans buy, buy what Americans make, and sell it to the world,’’ Perry said at a steel plant near Pittsburgh. “We are standing atop the next American economic boom - energy - and the quickest way to give our economy a shot in the arm is to deploy American ingenuity to tap American energy.’’

The plan, Perry contended, would accomplish twin goals of producing 1.2 million more jobs and weaning the country from foreign oil. He called for increasing drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean; expanding energy production on federal land, including in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; and curbing federal regulations, including scaling down the Environmental Protection Agency and removing its ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Straying away from a potential conflict in a politically important state, Perry’s plan would continue a ban on drilling in Florida’s Everglades. He would also exempt Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks from any energy exploration.

After releasing his plan, Perry left for Iowa, where he was scheduled to appear at a fund-raiser. He plans to return to the state next week for several events, including a Faith and Freedom Forum. The state is crucial for Perry, given that Mitt Romney has been far better positioned in New Hampshire.

“Whoever carries Iowa, it will be them versus Romney in New Hampshire,’’ Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa said yesterday in an interview. “It’s a wide-open situation here. I think there’s still a fair number of people undecided.’’

Just four weeks ago, Perry was far ahead in the polls, leading in many cases by double digits. But he quickly fell, with much of the support transferring to Georgia businessman Herman Cain, who has never held political office.

Perry’s struggles have also taken a personal toll. “It’s been a rough month,’’ Perry’s wife, Anita, told reporters on Thursday in South Carolina. “We have been brutalized and beaten up and chewed up in the press. . . . We are being brutalized by our opponents and our own party.’’

She said her husband is being targeted for his strong Christian faith. “He is the only true conservative - well, there are some true conservatives. And they’re there for good reasons. And they may feel like God called them too. But I truly feel like we are here for that purpose.’’

A Perry campaign spokesman downplayed any notion that their campaign had shifted off course. “This race isn’t going to be decided by pundits in Washington. It’s going to be decided by voters,’’ said Mark Miner. “They’re not concerned about who can give the sycophantic answer in a debate. They’re concerned about who can improve the economy and create jobs.’’

Perry supporters take comfort that Romney’s polling numbers have not improved. The former Massachusetts governor has largely hovered around 25 percent in the polls as other candidates rise and fall around him.

“I think people are not thinking this through,’’ said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi and a Perry supporter. “He’s got the money to run through all the early states, run a serious campaign. Nobody needs to be getting too giddy, and I think the Romney people got a little too giddy in these last few days.’’

Although there are only three months before voters start making their selections, in politics, much can change over that period. At this time in 2007, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani was leading in national polls and the eventual nominee - John McCain - was in third place.

“I call this the Cinderella cycle, and at any given time someone’s got the slipper,’’ said Ed Rogers, a Republican strategist. “Romney’s had it, Perry’s had it, Cain has it right now. And it’s going to passed around several more times.’’

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.