Republican presidential front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney both spoke at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention earlier this week and pitched their platforms to the nation's largest veterans group. Texas Governor Perry spoke about his military experience. But former Massachusetts Governor Romney emphasized his private sector business experience and railed against “career politicians,” leaving little doubt he was referring to Perry.
Both candidates emphasized the need for a strong military. President Obama turned down an invite to speak at the VFW convention.
Perry and Romney are the two leading GOP candidates, according to recent polls. Romney had been the front-runner before Perry entered the race. Now, Perry is leading with 24 percent of the vote, according to a Real Clear Politics average of six different polls. Romney is in second place with 17 percent.
Third place is a four-way tie between former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who each have between nine and 11 percent of the vote. Palin and Giuliani have yet to declare their candidacy.
“As a former Air Force pilot, I had the great privilege to fly attack airlifters around the globe from 1972 to 1977. I know the credo of survivors of war – that only the hero's are the ones who never make it home,” Perry told the veterans on Monday.
Perry had previously seemed to question President Obama's patriotism for his lack of military service. After a speech in which Perry said, “I think you want a president who is passionate about America … who is in love with America,” a reporter asked him if he thinks Obama loves his country.
“I dunno, you need to ask him,” Perry replied, “the president had the opportunity to serve his country I'm sure, at some time, and he made the decision that that wasn't what he wanted to do.”
Romney did not serve in the military, but touted his business experience as useful for dealing with a bloated defense budget. “As a conservative businessman who spent most of his life in the private sector, I look at ... inefficiency and bloat and I say, 'Let me at it,'” Romney told the audience on Tuesday.
Though he served one term as governor of Massachusetts, Romney positioned himself as a political outsider.
“Now I'm a conservative businessman. I spent most of my life outside politics dealing with real problems in the real economy. Career politicians got us into this mess and they simply don't know how to get us out,” Romney said.
Romney's reference to “career politicians” could be seen as a critique of Perry, who has never lost an election and has held some form of elective office every year since 1984. Also, he has been governor of Texas since 2000, making him the longest serving governor of Texas, and, currently, the longest serving governor in the United States.
Some pundits had started to wonder if the Republican Party was becoming more isolationist after several of the Republican candidates criticized Obama for military operations in Afghanistan and involving the United States military in the Libyan uprising.
Both Perry and Romney, however, emphasized the need for a strong military in their speeches. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer found the most interesting part of both speeches was “how un-isolationist each was.”
“Perry defended American unilateralism and preemptive war, which you would think after the Bush administration would be unpopular,” Krauthammer said.
“Romney actually mentioned American strength having accomplished stuff in the past, having defeated the Soviet Union, et cetera, but he included in the list getting Saddam out of his spider hole, which is a reference to the Iraq War, which is extremely rare in political discourse, unless you are attacking the Iraq War.”
Perry and Romney will both appear at a Labor Day forum, Palmetto Freedom Forum, hosted by South Carolina GOP Senator Jim DeMint along with Bachmann, Paul, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain.
Romney had previously said he could not attend due to a scheduling conflict with an event in New Hampshire. His decision to attend the forum and criticize Perry at the VFW convention could signal a shift in strategy for the Romney campaign.
Previously, Romney avoided attacking any of his opponents and focused his jabs at President Obama. Now that he is no longer the front-runner, however, his campaign may see a need to be more aggressive.