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How Perry's Targeting the 'Three Essential Elements' of the Iowa Republican Party

Ben Philpott/KUT
Rick Perry speaks to Iowans at the Roast and Ride event in Boone, IA.

Today, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will hit his third state in three days with a couple of meet-and-greets in South Carolina – he was in Iowa and New Hampshire over the weekend – three states in which he performed poorly during his first presidential run in 2012.

This time, Perry’s hoping to piece together a coalition of voters in order to win the Iowa primary, but first he must appeal to the state's GOP base.

One might ask why Perry running again. The short and simple answer is that he and his team see the path to victory. That being said, that’s the answer for every candidate. They got in the race with the idea that they can win. Perry’s path in Iowa, however, will be defined by the state’s Republicans, who align closely with the party’s overall philosophy nationally.

“Iowa Republicans distribute themselves somewhat similarly to Republicans nationwide. That is, there are three essential elements of the Iowa Republican Party,” says Dennis Goldford, a professor of Political Science at Drake University in Des Moines. “There are your corporate, more traditional, economics-oriented taxing and spending Republicans, sometimes considered the establishment or the corporate, country-club types.”

The Old Guard

So, how can Perry play to those corporate, country-club types? By touting his plan to cut the corporate tax rate and his 14 years as Texas Governor.

“Every union member in this country ought to be for Rick Perry when he stands up and says, ‘I’m going to lower the corporate tax rate and raise your wages.’” Perry said. “Everybody ought to get that. Here is somebody who really understands how to create jobs. And the reason I can say that is because I’ve seen it done.”

Perry’s main challengers there are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and union-busting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Libertarian types

The second echelon of Iowa Republicans, Goldford says: Libertarian types, who gave Ron Paul significant support in 2012.

So far, his play for that group focuses on his call for more "freedom" in America, which isn’t very specific, but, so far on the campaign trail, Perry hasn’t been very specific. He wants to lower taxes and shrink government, which libertarians tend to like. But he hasn’t pushed any specific additional freedoms.

Religious groups

As both a governor and a presidential candidate, Perry hasn’t shied away from talking about religion on the campaign trail, which will appeal to the third, and seemingly largest, swath of Iowa's GOP caucus base.

“Overall, Iowa is about 24 percent conservative/evangelical/born-again Christian,” says Goldford. “But the number floating around for the Iowa Caucuses on the Republican side in 2012 is 57 percent of Republican participants in 2012 in those caucuses self-identified as born-again Christians/Evangelicals.”

This was a group Perry made a huge play for in 2012. Remember his "Strong" ad?","_id":"00000175-d1cd-d35a-a3f7-d9cd4a180003","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">">","_id":"00000175-d1cd-d35a-a3f7-d9cd4a180003","_type":"035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2"}">

And he’ll need support from that group this time if he wants to win or finish strong in Iowa. But so far he has shied away from talking about a lot of the hot button social issues that get evangelicals excited. There’s been no mention of abortion or same-sex marriage in his speeches, and only passing remarks about the rights of Americans coming from God, not from Government.

Strength in Numbers

Both inside and outside of Iowa, Perry is also making his military record a focal point of his campaign message. From his announcement speech in Texas in front of a C-130, to his stops in Iowa, New Hampshire and those planned today, decorated military vets and their family have been with Perry along the way, including Medal of Honor recipient Mike Thornton, “Lone Survior” author and former Navy SEAL Marcus Lutrell, retired Marine Corps Capt. Dan Moran and Taya Kyle, the wife of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.  

Perry is one of two candidates in the GOP field that has military service. Sen. Lindsey Graham retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserves after 33 years ahead of his campaign announcement last week. Perry’s making sure you know that, but it’s not clear if that’ll impact voters. However, we might get a better answer in South Carolina, where there's a stronger military presence.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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