Rick v. Rick in Iowa GOP caucuses as Perry strives for 3rd place

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on December 30, 2011 at 8:46 PM

DALLAS - It's the last weekend before the Iowa caucuses, and Texas Representative Ron Paul is neck and neck with Mitt Romney for the lead.

The former Massachusetts governor is at 23 percent and Paul 21 percent, according to the NBC/Marist poll released Friday.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has 15 percent, followed by Texas Governor Rick Perry at 14 percent.  Former Speaker Newt Gingrich keeps sagging at 13 percent.

The poll results mirror others that show Perry has a chance to come in third in Iowa, and put new life in his struggling campaign.

Friday, he tried to blunt the surging Santorum.

Texas First Lady Anita Perry joined the governor as the Iowa campaign entered the stretch, with the goal of trying to persuade Republican voters that Perry is the alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney.

But in Perry's remarks, the only opponent he named was Santorum, whom he tagged for supporting earmarks.

"I've talked about Senator Santorum over the course of the last couple of days, who I have great respect for him, but just yesterday, once again, he defended his prolific pork barrel spending," Perry said.

Perry competes with Santorum for Christian conservative and tea party voters.

But in the last few days, polls show Santorum surging, with Perry also moving up a few points to where they're both in the mid-teens of support.

Perry thinks Santorum is weak on spending and debt.

"Not only that, [he] voted to raise the debt ceiling eight times while he was in the United States Senate," Perry said.

For Perry to come in third, he must knock down Santorum, according to the Austin American Statesman's Jason Embry who's covering Perry in Iowa.

"But there is some hope in the Perry campaign that if they can come in the top three. then they can move on and start to rebuild. and maybe get Romney in more of an isolated race," Embry told News 8.

Perry can rely on his heavy TV advertising in the next few days, while Santorum looks toward the good will built up from visiting all 99 counties in Iowa.

Perry hopes the long-anticipated consolidation of anti-Romney Republican voters will start to fall in behind him, as Bachmann sinks and Gingrich continues collapsing.

That may not help Perry in New Hampshire, where the CNN/Time poll this week put him at two percent.

But a third-place finish in Iowa could help Perry in South Carolina on January 21, heavy with Christian conservatives and veterans.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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