As for ousting President Obama next year, Perry said Republicans must nominate a candidate “who draws a distinct and clear contrast” with the current administration. He called his GOP rivals “capable,” but asserted that his record stands alone among the field. Asked if he was suggesting he’d offer voters a sharper contrast with the president than Mitt Romney would, Perry didn’t hold back. “Sure. [Romney] has been a great private sector job creator. He’s created jobs all over the world,” but when it comes to implementing those principles as Governor of Massachusetts, Romney produced “substantially less than quality work,” Perry said.
When a reporter suggested that it might seem premature or presumptuous of Perry to already be training most of his rhetorical fire on his would-be general election opponent, the Texas Governor dissented. He said it’s entirely appropriate for him to focus primarily on criticizing Obama, whom many Republicans identify as the problem. Another press question: Would he consider selecting Gov. McDonnell, who is term-limited after 2013, as a running mate? “Now that is thinking too far ahead,” Perry quipped.
Perry’s campaign has been boosted this week by a pair of significant endorsements from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval. Though Perry appeared at today’s event as McDonnell’s guest, the Virginia Governor’s team emphasized that the joint appearance did not represent a presidential blessing. One aide said McDonnell isn’t likely to issue any such endorsement until after the upcoming state-level legislative elections in November, if at all. McDonnell did say he was pleased to see several governors in the race, suggesting that he might be leaning towards Perry, Romney, or even former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.
Naturally, any of the GOP presidential candidates would covet the support of a well- liked governor of a critical swing state. According to a newly released Quinnipiac poll, 61 percent of Virginians approve of McDonnell’s performance as governor, a figure that includes two-thirds of independents. Just 21 percent disapprove.
Organizers attributed today’s large crowd size to Perry’s star power. “We would have been happy with 300 [people],” state party Communications Director Garren Shipley said. “But Perry really turned this into a huge, huge event. When Japanese reporters started calling for credentials, I realized this wasn’t just a small luncheon anymore.”
Another Virginia GOP official said ticket sales were extremely brisk from the moment the event was announced two weeks ago. “Reaching 1,100 people in 14 days is pretty incredible for us,” he said. “The interest was insane.” The Perry campaign brought along hundreds of bumper stickers and fliers to the luncheon. They left empty-handed.
Former US Senator George Allen, who is running for the Commonwealth’s open Senate seat in 2012, did not attend today’s event.