DES MOINES – The day started early for Travis Lovelady, one of the 1,500 precinct leaders working on behalf of Texas Gov. Rick Perry across Iowa.
Up at 6:30 a.m., Lovelady caught up on the latest news as he prepared his speech for the Precinct 70 caucus at Merrill Junior High School in the Des Moines neighborhood of Westwood.
“Perry is America’s jobs governor,” Lovelady said later Tuesday morning at Perry’s headquarters at a hotel just outside Des Moines. “He created 63 percent of the net jobs in the past few years in this country.”
Later in the afternoon, hours before the first vote was cast at the caucuses, Perry spoke at a closed-to-the-public event at an insurance company downtown. He painted himself as the state chief executive who could put America back to work.
“If you have my back tonight at the caucuses, I promise I’ll have your back for the next four years in Washington,” he said.
As of Sept. 30, 2011, Perry had raised more than $17 million, the second-highest number among the GOP candidates.
But as off midnight Tuesday, the Texas governor had just above 10 percent of the caucus votes. That number put him behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
When Perry launched his candidacy six months ago in Charleston, S.C., many saw in him the candidate who could appeal to most Republican bases – the religious conservatives, the Tea Party crowd, the business community.
But after rocky debate performances and rivals painting him as soft on illegal immigration, Perry has sunk in the polls and recovery isn’t in sight.
Still, supporters at his Iowa headquarters and at caucus sites remained enthusiastic.
“He reminds me of [Ronald] Reagan in a lot of ways,” said Curt Hagman, a campaign coordinator who arrived in Des Moines on Monday from Chino Hills, Calif.
“I was a military officer when Reagan was president,” he said. “And I can see they have a lot of the same traits which inspired me to go serve at the time, and that’s what I see in Perry as well.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, viewed as a rising star in GOP political circles, introduced Perry to that downtown crowd Tuesday. He contrasted Perry’s experience with President Obama’s.
“He doesn’t need on-the-job training,” he told the crowd of about 250 employees of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. “He’s been governor for 11 years.”
That’s not enough for caucus-goer Lee Halper, a lifelong Des Moines resident who walked into his caucus site still undecided Tuesday evening.
“I’m torn between [Ron] Paul and [Jon] Huntsman, which are in line with my beliefs,” he said. “But Perry is out of the question because I tend to vote for more intellectual individuals, and I don’t think he fits the bill.”
At Precinct 70, as GOP coordinators counted the votes scribbled on colored scraps of paper, the results for Perry were discouraging: only 3 votes out of 179 cast.
“We’ve got our best people working hard in New Hampshire and South Carolina,” precinct leader Lovelady said. “This was a tough district for Perry, very affluent, too moderate.”
Earlier Tuesday, Perry talked about recognizing the achievements of veterans, the Founding Fathers and his role as a public servant.
“It’s never been the purpose of my life to be the president,” he said. “It’s always been my purpose in life to serve this country.”