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Perry praises Pawlenty, downplays contrast with Romney

MANCHESTER, NH -- After a quick lunch of a hamburger and baked beans, and a round of "howdy's" to guests at a picnic here, Texas Gov. Rick Perry today told reporters he was sad to see former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty leave the race -- and that he hoped Pawlenty would support his candidacy.

"I say this in front of all my other Republican governors, he is one of my favorite governors out there -- not only because of what a Republican governor did in a pretty blue state, but also in a personal way. He is one of the funniest guys I've ever been around in my life, and I just love him." Perry said. "So I hope I have the opportunity to visit with him ,and certainly I hope to have him as a supporter as we go forward because we share a lot of the same values."

Perry demurred when asked by a reporter to contrast his positions with that of the race's current front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, saying there would be time for that later. The Boston Herald newspaper called Perry, already in second place in some polls, "Mitt's Worst Nightmare" on this morning's cover.

Perry laughed as that description was read to him. "I hope I'm not anybody's worst nightmare." he said. "But I hope I am a very worthy competitor."

"My goal is to finish number one in every contest," he continued, when asked how it felt to finish higher than Romney in the Ames straw poll. "I mean, I might not do that, but I'm a competitor."

Repeating a line from his announcement speech, Perry also said he understood -- and hoped to channel -- frustration at the federal government.

"I'm one of those citizens in this country that is really frustrated with a federal government that does not listen, and so one of my main tenets, as I said in my remarks yesterday, I want to make Washington as inconsequential in people's lives as I can."

In only his second campaign event since declaring his candidacy on Saturday, Perry looked at ease chatting with New Hampshire families amid picnic tables and in the buffet line. He high-fived a young boy and told him to study hard, and laughed with a couple in Texas A&M maroon T-shirts.

But it may be too early yet to tell if the Southern charm is having the desired effect.

Seeing Perry in person for the first time, Peter and Michelle Jukoski of Bow, NH said they weren't ready to call themselves Perry supporters yet, but that they were definitely "intrigued."