Any doubts about whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry really is the new darling of the GOP in Iowa were likely put to rest yesterday at the State Fairground in Des Moines, where the presidential candidate was greeted like a rock star by Republicans at their annual Polk County picnic.
About 300 people filled the pavilion of Jalapeno Pete's. About half of those in attendance were media, who began scribbling notes and shooting when Perry arrived and put their pens and cameras away when he left.
Perry arrived at the pavillion after a brief speech by fellow Texan Rep. Ron Paul, whose usually rambunctious following seemed muted compared to the reception Perry's supporters gave him. If Paul was the well-liked, elderly principal, Perry was the young, fit Elvis.
Perry took almost as much time shaking hands and posing for pictures on his way to the podium as he did speaking to the crowd.
"God bless John Deere," he told the crowd. "They have helped feed the world."
He railed against President Barack Obama, whose policies, he said, have created "economic misery."
"Economic freedom comes from work and wages not welfare," Perry said. "Since I was old enough to drive that tractor, I knew that the way to empowerment is not to empower government but to empower people."
As if to prove his credential to Iowa, he posed for pictures and questions in front of a green and yellow John Deere tractor following his speech, dragging a good portion of the crowd and most of the media with him as U.S. Rep Thaddeus McCotter spoke to a good number of empty seats.
Polls have shown Perry surging to the top of the GOP presidential hopefuls among Iowa's Republican voters. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic organization, last week showed him overtaking Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as the favorite in the state.