First Impression: Perry Underwhelms in Bedford

Texas Gov. Rick Perry made an underwhelming first impression at a packed Politics & Eggs breakfast Wednesday morning at the Bedford Village Inn.

The newly announced presidential candidate spoke haltingly, rambled at times, and sometimes gave answers only loosely tied to questions. Observers who had seen Gov. Perry in Greenland on Saturday said he was much sharper then, and suggested that he may have been tired after several days of aggressive campaigning in all of the early states.

Two hundred people, not including perhaps 50 journalists, attended the speech hosted by The New England Council, a regional business group. It was the biggest crowd they’d had for Politics & Eggs since Gov. George W. Bush addressed the group in 1999, according to an NEC organizer. Although it was not a particularly partisan audience, among the influential New Hampshire Republicans on hand to take Perry’s measure were former Gov. Steve Merrill, at least two state senators, three Sununu brothers, and several other political operatives. There was heavy media coverage, with at least 15 video cameras on hand.

Perry spoke for eleven minutes, then fielded eleven questions over 27 minutes. He did not work the room before or after he spoke; most people who attended did not get a chance to shake his hand.

“I’m gonna be here a lot,” the Governor began, pledging to campaign with “fervor.” 

“I love any state that dudn’t have a personal income tax. Live free or die – ya gotta love that,” Perry said in a muted Texas drawl. “Reminds me of the Alamo,” Perry added during three minutes of halting introductory remarks before getting into an eight minute stump speech delivered from prepared notes.

Perry said economic conditions under President Obama “sure doesn’t feel like a recovery,” calling it more like an economic “disaster.” Perry mentioned – twice – that 40 percent of new job creation in the past two years has taken place in Texas, something Perry attributed to his record of tax cuts, less regulation, and lawsuit reform. He cited new rules concerning the energy efficiency of residential water heaters as an example of job-killing regulation.

Nodding to Gov. Merrill and his signature phrase, Gov. Perry made a favorable mention of the “New Hampshire Advantage” and said the state has the best economy in New England. He urged the legislature to override Gov. John Lynch’s veto of the right-to-work bill.

In Q&A, Perry did not say whether he’d have voted for the debt ceiling increase but voiced support for “cut, cap, and balance.”

He fielded a question from New England College professor Wayne Lesperance giving him a chance to delineate his position on the wars. Perry responded with platitudes about supporting veterans.

Asked about whether General Electric ought to pay more in taxes, Perry said, “Just because you’ve got good relationships with people in DC doesn’t mean you should get away with paying less than your fair share in terms of corporate taxes.” It was a populist, anti-employer, anti-investor answer that might have met with approval from a Democratic audience. Nonetheless, Perry said he supported a zero percent tax rate on repatriated overseas corporate profits, significantly out-bidding his fellow candidates.

Questioned skeptically about the cost effectiveness of capital punishment, Perry meandered into talking about amending the Constitution before coming back to the topic and saying capital punishment is a state’s rights issue and that Texans strongly support capital punishment. “I’m gonna work a whole lot harder for a Balanced Budget Amendment than an amendment for capital punishment,” Perry said. The questioner had not mentioned amending the Constitution about anything.

When former state Sen. Jim Rubens of Etna asked a question about global warming, Perry gave his only answer of the day in which he directly disagreed with questioner. Rubens believes global warming is real and is due to man-made carbon emissions. Perry disagreed, saying the issue has become politicized with scientists compromising their results to get grant money.

Derry activist Chris Wolfe asked a question about growing the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. Perry gave a rambling answer about how he’d like to see Republicans pick up 20-30 seats in Congress next year and “run the table” in senate races to secure 60 seats, and pledged to “wear out the ink in a veto pen” if Congress doesn’t control spending.

Challenged on controversial vaccine mandates Perry implemented in Texas, Perry defended them as having been “helpful” in starting conversations between mothers and daughters.

Asked a vague question by conservative activist and former gubernatorial candidate Karen Testerman, Perry interpreted the question as being about Federalism, said that if elected, he would place “pro-business advocates” into administration positions, and criticized the National Labor Relations Board’s handling of the Boeing plant in South Carolina.

The last question came from an investment manager about ways to encourage savings. Perry again took a detour, starting about the need for incentives for energy independence before speaking about how government can encourage savings.

It was only one of what will become scores of appearances, and maybe the governor was tired. But if the Perry campaign is going to take off, he’ll need to be much sharper in future events than he was today.

fergus@ferguscullen.com. August 17, 2011

Author: Fergus Cullen

Fergus Cullen is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party (2007-2008) and an editorial page columnist for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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  • http://twitter.com/rginnh rginnh

    Funny’ if you read about this event at another website you come to a different conclusion. So who is right and who is biased? Does not matter because people no long need opinion pieces and can come to their own conclusions quite nicely, thank you very much. I love the Internet.