ORANGE CITY, Iowa -- Rick Perry has lost some of his Texas swagger. Maybe that's what happens when a governor tops Republican presidential polls the minute he joins the race, only to plummet after a shaky debate performance.
Whatever the cause, it was a more careful Perry who campaigned in Iowa over the weekend, trying to get things back on track before Tuesday's debate in New Hampshire and one Oct. 18 in Las Vegas. Rather than the new sheriff in town, he looked more like a cowboy cautiously remounting his horse after a surprising throw.
In four Iowa towns in two days, the Texas governor stuck to his stump speech, sometimes glancing at notes. He took a half-dozen questions from voters at each stop, but none from the numerous reporters. He shook hands and posed for pictures in a small but crowded restaurant his staff selected, but he left before others could greet him. Some voters appeared eager for more love than he returned.
Perry never mentioned his chief rival, Mitt Romney, by name. It's possible, though, that he was thinking of the former Massachusetts governor when he repeatedly said Iowans measure leaders "by how they walk, not how they talk" on issues such as job creation.
Perry seemed so eager to stick to his talking points that he passed up some softball pitches. Asked in Orange City what books have influenced him, Perry didn't mention the Bible or the works of famous Americans. He cited only Friedrich Hayek, the late Austrian economist who was a strong advocate of free markets, then veered back into his familiar criticisms of President Barack Obama's stimulus programs.
Perry has sharpened his answers about illegal immigrants, the topic that bedeviled him in the Sept. 22 debate, and which several Iowa Republicans pointedly raised. A woman in Spencer said she could not understand why he agreed to give in-state college tuition rates to the undocumented in Texas.
Perry defended the program but avoided suggesting that its critics have no heart, as he did in the last debate. Instead, he asked, "Are we going to create a class of tax wasters or are we going to create taxpayers?"