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Texas Gov. Rick Perry is trying to reclaim a place in the top tier of the Republican presidential field — and his campaign is betting a barnstorming bus tour of Iowa is the key to exceeding expectations in the state's Jan. 3 caucuses.
Perry jumped to the front of the pack instantly when he announced his candidacy in August. But he's spent much of the past three months trying to overcome poor debate performances and gaffes on the campaign trail.
While the bus tour may be the physical start of Perry's final comeback attempt, it really began back on Dec. 6, when the Perry campaign released a controversial ad that questioned whether gays should serve in the military.
In the ad, Perry promised to "end Obama's war on religion" and "fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage."
The ad sparked controversy and outrage in some quarters. It also raised Perry's profile in Iowa — and got his flagging campaign back into the general conversation. Even his poll numbers bumped back up into double digits.
Now the campaign hopes to capitalize on that momentum with 14 days on the bus.
A Day On The Trail
More than 40 stops have been scheduled so far. Each day is expected to look a little like the first — which began Wednesday with a short speech to about 75 people in Council Bluffs.
"I hope some of you are taking a second look," Perry told the group. "Saying, 'You know what — this guy does, in fact, lay out the plan to get this country back working.' "
Then it was on to Harlan, where he spent about an hour walking the town square. To a couple with a German last name, he recalled his childhood German neighbors. To an Iowa State fan, he talked about the late football player Cris Love, who grew up outside of Austin.
"I started paying attention to Iowa State when he was the No. 2 quarterback behind Seneca Wallace," Perry said. "Just a great kid. I mean, just a great Christian kid."
The day ended with another stump speech before nearly 200 people at a restaurant in Denison. There, he pushed the idea of restoring values in the White House and took a swipe at the current GOP presidential front-runners, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
"We got a choice this election. You don't have to settle for a Washington insider. You don't have to settle for a Wall Streeter. You can have an outsider who has the courage and the conviction, and will put into place the hard truths that this country needs to have," Perry said.
The Texas governor has a reputation as a great retail politician. And the campaign hopes these face-to-face events will change some minds. It seemed to work on Denison resident Charles Pollak.
"I was going with Newt Gingrich, and I'm going to go with him," Pollak said of Perry. "He's down to earth. I feel he's got my back."
Not everyone was as easily swayed. Perry took no questions at his first stop, something some Iowans consider a big no-no. During his walk around Harlan, some wanted more than the three to five minutes Perry gave to people.
But in a year when Iowa voters and Republicans nationwide have yet to land on a favorite candidate, Curt Larson of Arthur, Iowa, thinks he's found one.
"He is the most electable conservative of the bunch," Larson said.