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In SC, Perry steps lightly on Republican rivals

By Charles Babington

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 13 2012 5:35 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry autographs a version of his book 'Fed Up' during a campaign stop at the Hilton Head Diner, Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, in Hilton Head, S.C.

David Goldman, Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Texas Gov. Rick Perry aimed his sharpest criticism at President Barack Obama rather than his GOP rivals as he campaigned Friday in coastal South Carolina, eight days ahead of the state's primary.

Perry, using a light touch as he spoke to people in crowded restaurants in Bluffton and Charleston, mostly stuck with the campaign speech he used in Iowa and elsewhere. He mentioned front-runner Mitt Romney by name only when a Charleston man said he feared Perry has a poorer chance of beating Obama this fall.

Perry cited Texas' record of job creation during his 11 years as governor, and said it is far better than Obama's national record. "Romney cannot make that contrast," he said.

In one of his rare light-hearted moments, Perry said anyone seeking higher taxes and mandated health insurance coverage "can move to Massachusetts." It was another jab at Romney's four-year record as Massachusetts governor.

In Bluffton, Perry said his GOP opponents are "all either Wall Street insiders or Washington insiders" and called himself the genuine outsider who can change Washington.

Perry made no mention of Romney's record at the private equity firm Bain Capital. Several party officials and conservative spokesmen chastised him earlier this week for tying Romney to instances in which Bain investments worked out badly and resulted in job losses.

Perry has gotten off fairly easy thus far in the political ads swamping South Carolina TV stations, especially during local news hours. The main targets of the harshest ads have been former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Romney. Perry, like the others, is airing positive ads about himself.

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