Though both conservative Republicans, Texans Paul and Perry differ sharply

Posted Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011  comments  Print Reprints

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- They both live in Texas, but Rick Perry and Ron Paul are as different as Paint Creek and Pittsburgh.

For the two Texans in the 2012 presidential race, the path toward Tuesday's Iowa caucuses and beyond has been marked by shifting fortunes.

Paul, fueled by an unorthodox message that has amassed a loyal and growing band of followers, has bounded from the middle of the Republican pack to within striking distance of winning the first-in-the-nation presidential contest.

The Iowa caucuses could also determine whether Perry becomes an early casualty or continues his pursuit of the White House. The governor enjoyed a brief stint as the Republican front-runner but later slumped in the polls. He needs a strong showing in Iowa to stay alive in the race.

In its final pre-caucus poll, The Des Moines Register reported late Saturday that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney led with 24 percent, followed closely by Paul at 22 percent. Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, continued his surge with 15 percent, followed by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 12 percent and Perry at 11 percent.

Their contrasting stature isn't the only thing that separates the two Texas candidates. Although they both portray themselves as staunch conservatives, they differ sharply on style, background and presentation of their campaign messages.

Perry, 61, the son of West Texas tenant farmers in the small community of Paint Creek, often displays the kind of bravado that the rest of the nation expects from Texas political figures. His rugged good looks draw comparisons to the Marlboro Man.

Paul, who was born in Pittsburgh and raised on a farm in west Pennsylvania, moved to Texas in 1968 to begin a successful practice as an obstetrician-gynecologist, delivering more than 4,000 babies. He has since gone on to serve nearly a quarter-century in Congress over three different periods.

The Lake Jackson resident represents a largely coastal district near Houston, but unlike with Perry, there is little about his style or appearance that would automatically conjure up stereotypical images of Texas. One potential caucusgoer at a recent Paul event last week said she had forgotten that the 76-year-old candidate lives in Texas.

Paul and Perry are similar in some respects. They are the only two contenders in the race with military experience -- Perry was an Air Force pilot, Paul an Air Force flight surgeon.

They have also both promised to attack federal spending and want to shrink the federal bureaucracy. Paul would cut at least five federal agencies, Perry at least three.

They both want to slash foreign aid but differ sharply on other aspects of foreign policy, particularly over Paul's opposition to sanctions aimed against Iran's nuclear overtures. Perry has called for a tough line that includes freezing assets of the Iranian central bank.

"You don't have to vote for a candidate who will allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Because America will be next," Perry said recently in a reference to Paul. "I'm here to say you have a choice."

The governor and congressman have had a prickly relationship throughout the race. Soon after Perry became a candidate in mid-August, Paul released an ad reminding voters that Perry, as a Democrat, endorsed Al Gore for president in 1988 before switching parties in 1989.

Citing his early backing of Ronald Reagan, Paul said in the spot, "America must decide who to trust: Al Gore's Texas cheerleader or the one who stood with Reagan."

In a subsequent debate, Paul also accused Perry of raising taxes and the debt. "I don't want to offend the governor because he might raise my taxes or something," Paul said.

Perry, who vigorously disputed Paul's assertions, has also implicitly included the longtime congressman in recent ads pointing out that several of his opponents, including Paul, have a cumulative total of 63 years in current or former service in Congress, suggesting they have been part of the problem in Washington.

Paul and Perry are displaying their differing styles and campaign messages as candidates scramble to build support before the caucuses.

Paul appeared before more than 100 potential caucusgoers in the central Iowa town of Perry, which the Texas governor will symbolically visit Monday. Paul outlined key themes of his candidacy, including a pledge to comply with the Constitution, audit the Federal Reserve and rein in U.S. involvement abroad.

"If we can send a very, very strong message coming out of Iowa, it will play a large role in changing the direction of this country," Paul said.

Later, Perry addressed roughly the same-size audience in Marshalltown. "If you will have my back next Tuesday," Perry told potential caucusgoers, "I will have your back in Washington."

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294.

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