ATLANTA — Rick Perry said Friday anyone with doubts about how he would govern as president should simply look at Texas.
In his first domestic policy speech as a candidate for the White House, Perry touted his record on taxes, health care and the environment during a decade at the helm of the Lone Star state. But he used the brief outline of his tenure to bludgeon his political rivals.
Perry drew a stark contrast between his record and that of Mitt Romney, his main GOP opponent, and raised the specter of the health care law Romney ushered through as governor.
"As Republican voters decide who is best suited to lead this country in a new direction by stopping the spending spree and scrapping Obamacare, I am confident they will choose a nominee who has governed on conservative principles, not one whose health care policies paved the way for Obamacare," Perry said.
"I knew when I got into this race I would have my hands full fighting President Obama's big government agenda. I just didn't think it would be in the Republican primary," Perry continued.
The 13-minute speech to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an Atlanta-based conservative think tank, was delivered in a laconic, low-key style. He received polite applause from the crowd, which included a number of prominent Georgia Romney supporters.
Perry offered no policy proposals, instead pointing to Texas as a roadmap for a Perry presidency.
"I have a lengthy record, and sometimes it has ruffled feathers," Perry said. "But sometimes you have to shake up the system. I am not running from my record."
There were a number of prominent Georgia supporters of Romney in the audience.
Perry has been battling back after a shaky debate performance, after which he admitted that he used "inappropriate" language when he called Republican rivals "heartless." Perry was defending a Texas law that allows illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities if they meet certain criteria.
Perry went on the offensive Friday and launched a fresh line of attack on Romney's environmental record.
"In Texas, we've cleaned the air while creating jobs and adding millions in population. Another state — Massachusetts — was among the first states to implement its own cap-and-trade program which included limits on carbon emissions for power plants," Perry said in his speech.
Texas, home to the nation's oil and gas industry, has taken significant steps to clean its air in recent years, offering tax breaks and other incentives to companies that install expensive pollution controlling technology. But Texas still leads the nation in greenhouse gas emissions.
Perry has fought EPA rules and regulations, insisting the agency is overreaching and meddles in state affairs. The state has challenged in court several new EPA regulations aimed at forcing heavy industry to take pollution-controlling measures.
Perry also accused Romney of relying on environmental advisers who went on to work in the Obama administration. Environmental Protection Agency official Gina McCarthy, who works on clean air regulations, helped Massachusetts develop a climate plan when Romney served as governor. McCarthy was appointed by Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis and worked in state government for decades before moving to the EPA.
The Romney campaign accused Perry of misrepresenting the former Massachusetts governor's position. "Rick Perry once again has run into problems with the truth," spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Romney never signed a cap-and-trade plan for Massachusetts, though he did encourage state efforts to protect the environment. Massachusetts participated in discussions about a Northeastern regional cap-and-trade system while Romney was governor, but Romney decided not to join it.
Lester Tate, past president of the Georgia Bar Association, called Perry's claims about the benefits of tort reform questionable and said his statistics about new doctors in Texas have been proven false.
"He's doubling down on a lie," Tate said. "It's good Republican politics to go after lawyers."
The number of new doctors actually practicing in the state is around 12,800, according to the Texas Medical Board. And critics say the state's 20 percent population growth over that span has swelled the ranks of doctors more than the state's strict medical malpractice caps.
Perry's speech comes as the presidential candidates face an important fundraising deadline Friday in the latest quarter of the campaign cycle.
Perry was set to headline a fundraiser in Atlanta before heading to New Hampshire for a town hall style meeting with voters.
Hunt reported from Washington.
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