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Star-Telegram.com

Governor wants to be 'the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses'

Posted Friday, Dec. 16, 2011

By Dave Montgomery

dmontgomery@star-telegram.com

Gov. Rick Perry, seeking to recover from lackluster debate performances, proclaimed Thursday night in the last Republican debate of the year that he hopes to be "the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses."

And he said he is eager to "get it on" in a debate with President Barack Obama if he wins the GOP presidential nomination.

Comparing himself to the Denver Broncos quarterback who has led his team to seven wins in eight weeks despite skepticism about his abilities, Perry turned in one of his strongest performances.

He joined other Republican candidates in the final debate before the first votes of the 2012 presidential race take place in just over two weeks.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, battling for the lead, commanded the spotlight going into the 13th Republican debate.

But the two Texans in the race -- Perry and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson -- also hoped to gain support in the run-up to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.

The first question for Perry focused on his debate skills: A moderator asked whether the governor was prepared to go up against Obama, a proven orator and adept debater.

"I'm kind of getting where I like these debates," Perry responded.

"As a matter of fact, I hope Obama and I debate a lot, and I'll get there early. And we will get it on," Perry said, promising to stress his plans to push for a balanced budget amendment and create a part-time Congress.

Perry noted that many football fans wrote off Tebow as ill-suited to play quarterback in the NFL.

The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner has since gone on to be a fan favorite.

"I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses," said Perry, who has bombarded Iowa with television ads and is traversing the Hawkeye State on a 42-town bus tour, urging voters to give him a "second look" and boost him back into the lead.

Perry also renewed his attack on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for his handling of the "Fast and Furious" gun-trafficking investigation and called for tougher safeguards on the U.S.-Mexican border, warning that national security is "in jeopardy" from criminal elements and potential terrorists crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.

Paul fended off one of his perceived weaknesses by dismissing assertions that he couldn't win election as president because of his sometimes unorthodox campaign themes.

"Anybody up here can probably beat Obama," Paul said, drawing laughter from the audience. "I think he's beating himself."

Paul was looking to build on a recent surge that has vaulted him into the upper ranks of the Republican field, according to polls. The 76-year-old congressman, waging his third presidential campaign, has built a loyal following, including many younger voters, with a libertarian-style message accenting individual freedom and a retrenchment of government spending.

Moderators kept the debate on a fast clip as they pushed the candidates through a litany of issues, from the economy to foreign policy.

Candidates generally avoided attacks on each other early in the debate, spending more time bashing Obama, but the tenor became more acrimonious as the discussion moved into hot-button issues such as immigration.

Gingrich, who has climbed from single digits early in the race to emerge as Romney's principal challenger, had the most at stake going into the Fox News debate as Romney and others sought to slow his momentum.

For all the candidates, the two-hour forum in Sioux City, Iowa, offered the last nationally televised venue to make their case before the caucuses.

Gingrich, fielding the first question, dismissed critics' doubts about his conservative credentials as "sort of laughable," saying he had a 90-plus rating from a major conservative group and pushed through a balanced budget as House speaker. He vowed to get America "back on the right track."

Romney cited his long business background as a key qualification to lead the nation, declaring that "I know what it takes to get this economy going."

The debates have had what some analysts describe as an unprecedented role in shaping the fortunes of Republicans competing to face Obama next year.

Since the first debate in early May, Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty have left the race, shrinking the GOP field to seven.

"It feels right now like the debates have affected

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