WATERLOO, Iowa-Republicans in Black Hawk County, Iowa, welcomed three presidential candidates to the stage late Sunday afternoon, but attention centered on the newcomer to the race, Rick Perry.
Rick Santorum, fresh off a fourth-place finish in Saturday's Iowa straw poll, was quietly touring the room shaking hands for several moments before all eyes turned toward the door for Perry's entry. A press swarm mobbed the latest GOP hopeful while a rendition of "Deep in the Heart of Texas" played.
Perry, barely 24 hours into his campaign for president, began introducing himself to Iowa voters with remarks focused initially on his Texas biography and then on the need for economic growth and spending restraint.
"The president has a pen. It's called a veto pen," Perry said as he opened his jacket to take one from his pocket. "I will use it until the ink runs out, if that's what it takes."
Perry spoke energetically, standing to the side of the podium with a microphone in his hand. He highlighted his Texas record of creating jobs and identified himself with Tea Party voters. "We're not angry, we're indignant," Perry said, naming high spending, debt, and the new national healthcare law as the culprits. "We're indignant about a president who goes on an American apology tour instead of talking about American exceptionalism."
Shedding his jacket, Perry took audience questions about the need for energy independence and border security. "You can't even have a conversation about immigration policy until you first secure the border," he said.
With his personal story new to many, Perry took time to showcase his rural Texas childhood, farm background, and Air Force experience as a pilot. He told of meeting his wife, Anita, at age 8, having a first date with her at 16, and marrying her 16 years later. "Sometimes it takes me a while," Perry said to a laugh, indicating he likewise is fully committed to the presidential bid despite the late entry.
"Making sure we have a candidate in November who can beat Barack Obama is the most important thing we can do," Perry added.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, speaking after Perry to the same audience at the three-hour Lincoln Day Dinner, showed off a local newspaper proclaiming her victory the previous day in the straw poll. "Yesterday, we sent a message to Washington," she said.
Bachmann said that the enthusiasm of voters restores her faith that "we will take the country back." She said that as president she would not have a goal of necessarily winning a second term but of doing what is best for America, from reducing debt to standing for the pro-life cause.
"The poison water of Washington didn't change me," Bachmann said. "My goal is to be bold, new, different."
The entrance of Perry, who currently is serving his third-term as governor of Texas, further shakes up a changing GOP presidential field. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty ended his bid earlier Sunday following a disappointing third-place finish in the straw poll. The other candidates, including national frontrunner Mitt Romney, were not mentioned at the event.
Santorum, on a 21-day campaign swing through Iowa, joked that he was "the undercard" at the beginning of his remarks, which called for restoring the moral foundations of America.
Speaking just 10 minutes, the former senator from Pennsylvania contrasted himself with some of his rivals on allowing states to settle the same-sex marriage issue. "I think it is a corrupt view of the 10th Amendment," he said. "States cannot do whatever they want."
Santorum's lower-budget campaign has so far taken him to 68 of Iowa's 99 counties in his bid for an upset in the state's caucuses in early 2012. "In dollars spent per votes, we won yesterday," he said of his finish behind Bachmann, Ron Paul, and Pawlenty in Saturday's straw poll.