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Perry hits Romney on health care, praises al-Awlaki strike

By NBC's Carrie Dann

ATLANTA -- In his first public appearance since the weekend of his disappointing loss in the Florida straw poll, Gov. Rick Perry issued a broad attack on competitor Mitt Romney, reminding an audience of Georgia state lawmakers and conservative policy gurus of Romney's record on health care.

"As Republican voters decide who is best suited to lead this country in a new direction by stopping the spending spree and scrapping Obamacare, I am confident they will choose a nominee who has governed on conservative principles, not one whose healthcare policies paved the way for Obamacare, a path blazed with higher premium costs and thousands of lost jobs," he said.

In what his campaign billed as a policy speech to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, which advertises being "the only free-market think tank in Georgia," Perry tied Romney to the Obama administration's health care and environmental policies. He noted that Massachusetts instituted both the Romney-signed individual mandate and cap-and-trade legislation.

"I knew when I got into this race I would have my hands full fighting President Obama’s big government agenda," he said. "I just didn’t think it would be in the Republican Primary."

Focusing on his economic record in Texas, the governor also lauded other states without individual income taxes. "Keep your taxes low. A personal income tax of zero is good," he said to applause. "Zero is good unless you're talking about job creation."

Perry, whose first fundraising haul will be closely watched as a barometer of his campaign, hinted at some of the items in his own record that have prompted cooling of his support among conservatives.

“I have a lengthy record, and it sometimes ruffles people's feathers," he said. "But sometimes you have to shake up the system.”

While much of his speech consisted of a litany of complaints against the Obama administration, Perry opened his remarks with kind words for the White House and the military for the death of al Qaeda operative Anwar Al-Alwaki

"I want to take a moment to congratulate the United State military and our intelligence community and President Obama for sticking with government's long-standing and aggressive anti-terror policies for getting another key terrorist, international terrorist I might add, in the death of this American-raised Al Qaeda leader Anwar al Awlaki."

"His death will be quite a serious setback for that organization," he said.

*** UPDATE *** The Romney camp responds to First Read: "Romney never entered in to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative while he was governor. His Democrat successor Deval Patrick did."