PERRY, Iowa -- In the town bearing his name, Governor Rick Perry finally seemed at home.
The Texas governor, now facing the prospect of failing to crack the top tier in a state once predicted to hand him a cakewalk victory, offered perhaps the most fluid and passionate performance of his 42 city bus tour during its final stop.
Perry, who throughout the final weeks of his Iowa campaign has frequently consulted notes during remarks and offered lengthy and tangent-laden answers to questioners, spoke concisely and emotionally Monday night about the dangers of big government and the importance of nominating a GOP candidate who shares social conservatives' "values."
"Why would you settle for anything but an authentic conservative who shares your views and values and will go to Washington DC and not apologize one moment for them?" he asked.
About 200 supporters packed into a ballroom of the Pattee Hotel, offering choruses of "yeah!" and "damn straight" as Perry delivered a punchier version of his typical stump speech.
But his remarks were stripped of their recent direct hits on top rival Rick Santorum, attacks he has delivered over the past week with heavy reliance on rehearsed lines and written notes.
Joined on stage by his family and top surrogates - and introduced by early backers Governors Bobby Jindal and Sam Brownback - Perry won sustained applause from the crowd for his praise of two veterans - Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and former Marine Capt. Dan Moran.
"That's part of what this is all about," he said, appearing briefly to fight tears. "It's about those young men and women. It's about supporting them when they come home."
Perry now approaches a caucus night that will weigh his campaign's organizational muscle against the gaffes, internal sniping, and sluggish response to missteps that have plagued his run.