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Perry begins campaign for Western Iowa

Alex Moe/NBC News

Gov. Rick Perry speaks to a crowd gathered in Orange City, Iowa on Saturday.

SPENCER, Iowa -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry made his way for the first time to the most conservative part of the state this weekend, making three stops in the crucial Northwest Iowa region.

More than 100 Iowans greeted the governor and First Lady of Texas, Anita, cramming into rooms barely large enough to accommodate the size of the crowds.

“Western Iowa is Republican country,” Perry told those in attendance at McCarthy and Bailey’s Irish Pub in Sioux City.

Although fellow GOP presidential contenders Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich have held a fair share of events in that region of the Hawkeye State, this was Perry’s first trip. A trip many say was long overdue.

“We’ve been wondering why Perry hasn’t been here,” Joyce Browne of Sioux City, Iowa said noting there were a lot of votes to be won up here.

Many of the caucus-goers in attendance at Saturday’s events had not chosen a candidate to support and wanted to come see what Perry, who has been falling in the polls recently, had to say in person.

Pete Pals from Orange City, Iowa came with his wife to the Blue Mountain Culinary Emporium because he has no preference on a candidate yet. “I’m here to get a feel for Gov. Perry and I think all things being equal, I will support the Republican nominee, whoever gets it,” he said.

“I like to hear form the candidates so we can make wise decisions rather than listen to the media and have them tell me who to vote for,” Lillian Green of Boyden, Iowa said. “At this moment, I think I would have a very good tendency to vote for Mr. Perry.”

The presidential hopeful gave very similar and rather brief speeches to all the groups he spoke with, touting his record on jobs in Texas and promising to draw a bright line between himself and President Obama.

“I'm not an M.D., but I have a Ph.D. in job creation, that's what America is looking for,” Perry told the crowd at the Pizza Ranch in Spencer.

State Sen. David Johnson decided to endorse Perry instead of Mitt Romney this time around because of their records.

“I went for Romney in 2008 and he did fairly well up here but this time around it is about jobs, the economy, our tax structure,” Sen. Johnson said. “I looked at his [Perry] record in Texas and it convinced me that he was the best one to back.”

Although he did not take questions from reporters, he allowed time for a question and answer session with Iowans following each speech. Voters questioned Perry’s stance on immigration, specifically tuition for illegal immigrants.

Perry said the federal government put Texas in a hard position: “Are we going to kick these people to the side of the road and let them become tax wasters? Or are we going to give them the opportunity to go to an institution of higher learning, pay full in-state tuition, which we do, and require them pursue citizenship?

“We wanted to make tax payers not tax wasters,” he promised.

Anita Perry spent much of her time in Iowa last week clarifying this same issue to Iowans. She contended that her husband was not given ample time in debates to respond to criticisms of his stance and said he is committed to stopping the tide of illegal immigration.

One attendee in Spencer also asked Perry what he thought about how certain pundits refer to him and whether he would have "his whole party's support" if he became the nominee.

"I think Americans are looking for a president that will look them right in the eye and tell them the truth," Perry said. "I think they want a president who has the record of job creation. I think they want somebody that's not about rhetoric but that's about record."

Perry’s Iowa State Chairman Bob Haus told NBC News that this was a "great" trip for the governor and he would be back to Northwest often.

“I think this is the kind of stuff that helps you do well in the caucuses,” Haus said. “When you are talking to people one-on-one, and you’re telling them your vision and your side of the story and converting people to supporters.”

Johnson could not emphasize enough how important the region would be for Perry.

“There is a lot more territory up here to be covered to make those personal visits,” he said. “You’ve got to come back over and over again.”