BEDFORD, N.H. – Governor Rick Perry of Texas, who has held statewide prayers for rain in his home state and holds many positions dear to social conservatives, came to moderate New Hampshire yesterday to fish for votes in the backyard of front-runner Mitt Romney.
“I’m straight up about it: I’m running for president because we’ve got to get America working again,’’ Perry said to a packed audience at the state’s Politics and Eggs breakfast. “Live free or die,’’ he added, of the state’s motto. “You’ve got to love that.’’
Perry has immediately catapulted to the top tier in the Republican presidential contest – one national poll already has him in the lead. But whether Perry, a pistol-packing Texan fond of cowboy boots and cuff links, can attract broad-based support in a state known for its frugal, independent-minded Yankees is a major question that will help determine the contours of the race.
New Hampshire is the second-least religious state, and its GOP voters are more likely to support abortion rights than the nation as a whole. In two presidential primaries, GOP voters picked Arizona’s John McCain, the senator with a reputation for building bridges to Democrats, over George W. Bush in 2000 and Mitt Romney in 2008.
Yesterday Perry continued emphasizing the economy and drawing sharp contrasts with Romney on both style and substance. He also reiterated emphatically that he does not believe climate change is caused by man, a position Romney holds.
Perry, fresh from a trip to Iowa, is spending two days in New Hampshire meeting with political and business leaders as he tests his message and determines whether to invest heavily in the first-in-the-nation primary state that is so prized by Romney.
It was clear from the size of the crowd yesterday at the Bedford Village Inn – which some described as the biggest in years – that New Hampshire residents are willing to be swayed by a new choice in the race.
“This guy’s got swagger that makes George Bush look like a college professor,’’ said Patrick Griffin, a Republican consultant and senior fellow at Saint Anselm’s College who is not aligned with a candidate. “I think this guy, given the tone and discussion of this race, is probably the right guy for Republicans right now to contrast with the president.’’
Perry took 10 questions from the audience, calling on them with a drawled “Yes ma’am,’’ and “Yes sir,’’ but avoided any inquiries from the media. He also spoke from prepared remarks, and appeared determined to avoid making controversial statements as he did Monday when he said the actions of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke may border on treason.
“I got in trouble about talking about the Federal Reserve yesterday. I got lectured about that yesterday,’’ Perry told the audience, even as he stuck by the statement that it would be “treasonous’’ for the Federal Reserve to “print more money’’ in an attempt to boost the economy.
Perry also said yesterday that, if president, he would not have signed the debt-ceiling compromise legislation. And he said global warming was not caused by humans and was based on manipulated data from scientists. That could become a key rift with Romney, who has taken flak from some in his party for his belief that human beings contribute to global warming.
“There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects,’’ Perry said yesterday. “I think we’re seeing almost weekly or even daily scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change.’’
“And the cost to the country, and to the world, of implementing these anticarbon programs is in the billions if not trillions of dollars,’’ he added. “I don’t think, from my perspective, that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven.’’
An overwhelming majority of scientists have concluded that the carbon dioxide emissions of fossil fuels have caused the climate to change. The chief advocate for addressing the issue has been Al Gore, the former vice president who won the Nobel Prize for that work in 2007.
Perry, a former Democrat, was chairman of Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign in Texas but has since called Gore a “false prophet of a secular carbon cult.’’
Perry endorsed an idea yesterday to allow American corporations to have a break on overseas profits that are now subject to a 35 percent tax. He said the tax should be scrapped completely for five years, as long as the money was “clearly going for job creation.’’ Romney has called for an unspecified temporary reduction in taxes on foreign profits.
When asked to explain why General Electric did not pay taxes in 2010, Perry said he was at a loss – and criticized parts of the tax code that allow corporations to take major deductions.
“I can’t. I can’t explain that,’’ he said. “The idea that just because you have a good relationship with the political world in Washington, D.C. . . . is not a good enough reason that you’re not paying your fair share of taxes when small-business men and women are struggling to keep their doors open.’’
Perry seemed intent on keeping the focus on economic themes, and appeared far more subdued than he has in recent days in Iowa, perhaps a calculation that his brash style may not go over as well here.
Later, Perry went to Nashua to tour Resonetics, a micromanufacturing company, where he held a round-table discussion with more than a dozen local businessmen. Romney was also in New Hampshire yesterday morning, meeting with steelworkers in Berlin in a stop that had little of the fanfare of Perry’s.
Although there are vast cultural differences between New Hampshire and Texas, several Granite Staters said yesterday that they were intrigued by Perry.
“New Hampshire voters have swagger,’’ said Richard Ashooh, a former Republican congressional candidate from Bedford. “It’s just a different swagger.’’
Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe com.
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