WASHINGTON -- Rick Perry has finally found a consistent line of attack against Mitt Romney.
The Texas governor's presidential campaign has gone after Romney repeatedly over the past few days for changes the former Massachusetts governor made to his 2010 book, "No Apology." In particular, they've hit him for taking out a line that referred to exporting health care reforms Romney made in the Bay State to the rest of the country.
“We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country," Romney wrote in the hardcover edition of his book. That line was removed from the paperback edition.
The Perry campaign points out that President Obama modeled his national health care law on Romney's program in Massachusetts, and then uses that fact to imply that the line in Romney's book showed support of a national system similar to the one in Massachusetts, which included a mandate to purchase health insurance.
"Mitt Romney should tell the truth and just admit that he deleted from his book his claim that Romneycare is a national model," Perry spokesman Mark Miner said in a campaign press release Monday afternoon. "It is understandable that Mr. Romney is embarrassed that he created the blueprint for Obamacare."
Perry went after Romney on this count in Thursday night's debate in Orlando as well.
"Your hard copy book, you said it was exactly what the American people needed -- to have that Romneycare given to them as you had in Massachusetts. Then in your paperback, you took that line out," Perry said.
Romney responded: "In my book I said no such thing. ... I said, 'This is a state plan for a state, it is not a national plan.'"
Obama did model parts of his overhaul on what Romney did. But Perry was wrong to say that Romney argued for a nationalization of the Massachusetts plan. In fact, Perry's own campaign press releases have tellingly avoided making this charge explicitly.
A look at the context of the removed Romney line (which can be read here) clearly shows that he argued for a state-by-state approach, and that his talk of doing the same for the country referred to the aspirational goal of reducing the number of people without health insurance.
"My own preference would be to let each state fashion its own program to meet the distinct needs of its citizens. States could follow the Massachusetts model if they chose, or they could develop plans of their own," Romney wrote one paragraph before the removed quote.
Nonetheless, the attacks by the Perry campaign are still the best and most effective offensive that they've waged yet, after weeks of fruitless efforts on their part to land a punch on Romney. Part of the Perry campaign's inability to bloody Romney has been Perry's own woeful performance in three debates, evidenced by his bumbling attempt to label Romney a flip-flopper last Thursday night.
But at a moment when Perry has hit a new low point since entering the race six weeks ago, his campaign is finally gaining a little traction on Romney simply by keeping the 2006 health care law in the news. Earlier this year, many conservatives thought Romney was de facto disqualified because of Romneycare, in particular the insurance mandate.
Now, many are saying Romney is on track to win despite the health care issue. The Examiner's Philip Klein even wrote a piece Monday laying out a strategy for conservatives to box in Romney if he wins the White House by focusing on electing as many Tea Party-affiliated members of Congress as possible.
But there is a subtle shift going on the longer Perry keeps pounding on Romney over health care. If Perry can keep the issue in the public long enough, it might renew discomfort on the right over Romney's actions. But that's only half the battle for Perry as he fights to overcome the growing perception that he is not ready to run for president. He still needs to show he can be a candidate that conservatives feel confident sending out to take on Obama.
UPDATE: 8:25 p.m. -- Eddie Vale, from Protect Your Care, a group set up to defend Obama's health care law, e-mailed HuffPost to point out that Romney has, in a TV interview, suggested that the Massachusetts law, and in particular the mandate, should be imitated in other states.
"I'm not somebody who's going to say what I did in Massachusetts I'm going to now tell every state they have to do it the same way," Romney said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Dec. 16, 2007. "Now, I happen to like what we did. I think it's a good model for other states. Maybe not every state, but most. And so what I'd do at the federal level is give to every state the same kind of flexibility we got from the federal government, as well as some carrots and sticks to actually get all their citizens insured. And I think a lot of states will choose what we did. I wouldn't tell them they have to do our plan."
"I think you're going to find when it's all said and done, after all these states that are the laboratories of democracy, get their chance to try their own plans, but those who follow the path that we pursued will find it's the best path, and we'll end up with a nation that's taken a mandate approach," Romney said.
If the Perry campaign were to broaden their attacks beyond Romney's book and use this interview -- particularly the last line -- they could argue with more authority that Romney has supported the idea of much of the nation going toward a plan similar to Obama's.