WATERLOO, Iowa — They're competing with each other and currently leading the pack of Republican presidential hopefuls, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann are riding the same issue out of Iowa: jobs.
One day after Bachmann's victory in the Iowa straw poll and Perry's announcement of his candidacy, the candidates told party faithful attending Black Hawk County's Lincoln Day dinner in northern Iowa they have credibility and experience creating jobs.
The duo also went to great lengths to burnish their local credentials, with Bachmann celebrating her Waterloo roots repeatedly and Perry name-checking Iowa companies, recalling his own 4-H gold star status and Eagle Scout upbringing, and paying repeated respect to senior Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who maintains a hog farm nearby and was seated in the crowd.
But the contrast that may lift Perry, and undermine Bachmann, in their high-stakes battle for Iowa had less to do with what they said than how they said it — and what they did before and after speaking.
"I happen to think the biggest issue facing this country is that we are facing economic turmoil, and if we don't have a president that doesn't get this country working, we're in trouble," Perry told about 300 Republican activists in Waterloo's Electric Park Ballroom. "And I've got a track record."
NBC News reports that Bachmann did not enter the venue while the Texas governor was speaking at the event, opting instead to wait outside on her campaign bus.
The Texan arrived about 90 minutes before he was scheduled to speak and listened as local Republican activists and an Abraham Lincoln impersonator delivered speeches. Perry shook hands, posed for pictures and signed autographs with party activists, according to Politico.
But Bachmann did not enter the venue until she had been assured by a campaign staffer that the lighting had been changed, NBC News' Jamie Novogrod reported. The stage was dramatically brighter following the change from the Perry campaign’s Tungsten lights to Bachmann’s HMI lights, witnesses said.
When it was her turn to address the crowd, Bachmann touted her experience running her family's small business in Minnesota.
"We started our own successful small company," she told reporters. "We know how to build from scratch, putting capital together and starting a business from scratch and building it up so that we can actually offer jobs to people."
A segment of the GOP's establishment and economic conservatives have sat on the sidelines in the early months of the race, waiting for an alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Support for Romney, positioning himself as the Republican most associated with job creation, has been muted in some parts of the GOP primary electorate.
Perry was mobbed by dozens of reporters at the Lincoln Day dinner, his first appearance as a candidate in the leadoff caucus state. He plans to hold private meetings with GOP elected officials as he travels around the state Monday and Tuesday in a motor coach splashed with his name and the slogan "Get America Working Again." On Tuesday, Perry plans to hold an economic roundtable with businesspeople in Dubuque.
"We're going to spend a lot of time in Iowa," Perry told reporters.
The reaction to Perry was a sharp contrast to another part of the room, where presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, moved through the crowd with less commotion.
Perry struggled to move from table to table. "It's going to be a big time," Perry told Cedar Falls Republican Jeanie Balthazor.
In the 24 hours between Perry's announcement in Charleston, S.C., and his arrival in Iowa, the ground had shifted profoundly.
Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, beat her home-state rival Tim Pawlenty by more than 2-to-1 in the Iowa straw poll, an early test of caucus campaign strength. Pawlenty, a former two-term Minnesota governor, had put all his chips on a strong showing in the poll. But his distant third-place finish, behind Texas Rep. Ron Paul, prompted Pawlenty to quit the race Sunday morning.
Bachmann, on the other hand, rose sharply to the top of Iowa polls since launching her campaign in June and made an aggressive push for straw poll support with evangelical pastors and Christian home-school backers.
Bachmann waited on her campaign bus in the ballroom parking lot while Perry spoke at the fundraiser, and entered the hall to her trademark introduction theme, Elvis Presley's version of "Promised Land."
A vocal opponent of the deal reached in Congress to raise the national debt ceiling, Bachmann sought to broaden her appeal to include budget hawks and noted her tea-party backing to project herself as appealing to a range of voters.
"It's a movement coming together. It's a movement of social conservatives, a movement of fiscal conservatives, particularly on the debt ceiling issue," she said.
But she also stressed her opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, issues Perry did not touch in his remarks.
"Without social conservatives it will be very difficult to beat Barack Obama in 2012," Bachmann said.
On Sunday, Gallup's daily tracking poll had President Barack Obama's approval rating at 39 percent, his lowest in more than a year.
Bachmann and Paul, the libertarian favorite, combined to receive more than 60 percent of the vote at the straw poll, sending a strong anti-establishment message from Iowa's GOP activist base.
The New York Times reports that Grassley suggested the primary race unfolding "very fluid." He added, "From here on, you are shooting with real bullets."