DES MOINES, Iowa — Texas Gov. Rick Perry warned during an appearance in Iowa that President Obama has driven the nation's economy into a ditch, arguing that his own record as governor qualifies him to lead the way out.
"Instead of eliminating our economic crisis, he worsened it," said Perry. "Instead of addressing the debt, he exploded it."
Perry told nearly 400 activists that he's created 1 million jobs while governor of Texas, all during a stretch where the nation was losing 2.5 million jobs. Perry said he'll take his record of cutting taxes and regulation to Washington and he said the Texas rebound proves that those efforts work.
Perry was joined at a county GOP picnic by fellow candidates, Reps. Ron Paul of Texas and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, but Perry was getting the bulk of the attention.
Perry singled out recent comments by former Iowa governor and current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's that food stamps were helping to bolster the economy by getting buying power into people's hands.
"Food stamps are not a solution, they are a symbol of the problem," said Perry. "Today's leaders see it differently."
Perry sought to drive the problem home, noting that Iowa has suffered as well under the Obama administration.
"Today, one in eight Iowans is on food stamps," said Perry. "That is a testament to the widespread misery created by this administration."
Perry has moved near the top of most polls only a couple of weeks after announcing his decision to run for the Republican nomination. He was making his second visit to Iowa, where precinct caucuses traditionally launch the nominating season, and he has made it clear he will compete for those caucuses . He's begun building the organizational structure essential to delivering backers to those caucuses.
With his solid standing in the polls, he ignored all of his rivals and focused on Obama and Washington.
"It's a statement that the state that feeds the world has so many people dependent on the government for food," said Perry.
"You have lost 12,000 jobs since the current resident of the White House took office," said Perry. He said that is precisely the opposite of his own record in office.
"Since I've become governor, Texas has created more than 1 million jobs, while the rest of the country has lost 2.5 million jobs," said Perry.
His twin themes: making life easier for business, and making life tougher for government.
"We've got to stop spending money we don't have," said Perry. "I promise you this, I will work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential to you as I can."
While there haven't been any recent polls in Iowa, most activists here put Perry in the first tier of Republican candidates.
Kevin McLaughlin, one of the organizers of Saturday's event said Perry's rapid rise comes because he's a governor of a big state, but also because he offers a message that resonates with the Republican base.
"He's the governor of a state that doesn't have an income tax and he's riding the wave," said McLaughlin.
Paul has caused something of a stir in the state, building a deeply committed core of backers that allowed him to post a very close second- place showing in the Republican straw poll.
"Our problem is government is too big," said Paul. "As government gets bigger, your personal liberties are limited. We don't need a federal reserve system, we need a gold standard for our money."