Friday marked the day Rick Perry finally tried to go on offense.
First he blitzed the network morning shows, then he delivered a detailed speech on energy policy in Pittsburgh. All before lunch.
It amounted to what felt like a new chapter in the Texas governor’s struggling presidential campaign, which has tumbled to Earth after a stratospheric start.
Before about 150 workers in hardhats at a U.S. Steel plant, Perry outlined a plan he vowed would help make American energy independent and create 1.2 million jobs.
“My plan is based on this simple premise: Make what Americans buy, buy what Americans make, and sell it to the world,” Perry said. “We are standing atop the next American economic boom--energy. The quickest way to give our economy a shot in the arm is to deploy American ingenuity to tap American energy. “
Perry pledged to chase oil reserves wherever he can find them: both off the coast of the Alaska and within the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia, and in the American West.
Reading from a teleprompter, Perry also said he would push to exploit the country’s coal and natural gas resources.
The key, Perry said, is rolling back the federal regulatory net.
“President Obama and his over-reaching Environmental Protection Agency won’t allow American businesses and American labor to draw on even a fraction of this domestic energy from reserves on government-owned lands,” he said.
“On one hand, the Obama administration opposes fossil fuel development at home, and then on the other hand encourages countries like Brazil to drill offshore and sell it to American consumers, creating foreign jobs and foreign profits. That’s wrong. That’s hypocritical. That’s unfair. America should not be, and when I am president will not be, held hostage by foreign oil and federal bureaucrats,” he said.
A skeptic of global warming theory, Perry said he would halt the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases, which he termed “draconian.”
“When you consider that any carbon reduction will be offset by the increase of carbon emissions by developing nations like China and India, the EPA would tie our economy in knots and advantage our global competitors while realizing no global environmental benefits in the process,” Perry said.
He also enthusiastically backed a controversial practice known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” in which a pressurized liquid is injected into a rock layer to yield natural gas or petroleum.
“The EPA’s war on American fossil fuel production comes despite the fact they can’t point to a single incident of unsafe hydraulic fracturing of natural gas,” Perry said. “If they have their way in shutting down gas and coal production, the Obama legacy will be more than 2.4 million energy jobs lost in oil, gas and coal.”
President Obama's re-election campaign quickly responded to Perry's remarks.
“Gov. Perry’s energy policy isn’t the way to win the future, it’s straight out of the past – doubling down on finite resources with no plan to promote innovation or to transition the nation to a clean energy economy," said campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.
Perry’s speech in Pittsburgh came after a series of listless debate performances and as his standing in the polls has dropped behind Mitt Romney and conservative insurgent Herman Cain. At a debate Tuesday in New Hampshire focused on economic policy, Perry largely demurred on providing details of how he would spur job growth, saying he would roll out his plan in coming days.
Friday was a step toward that—and he said he would provide more details of his economic plan in “a matter of days.”
During an event in South Carolina a day earlier, Perry’s wife, Anita, said the campaign had grown difficult and suggested that Perry’s rivals were attacking him because of his devout Christian faith and his conservative principles.
In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday, Perry stood by his wife’s remarks.
"Family members generally take these campaigns harder than anyone else. I'll stand by my wife, I think she's right on both cases,” he said.
Perry also took a shot at Cain and his now-ubiquitous “9-9-9” tax reform plan, calling it a “catchy slogan: but noting that citizens of states that have sales taxes would see a huge rate hike.
“I think once this really gets looked it . . . sounds pretty cool to say '9-9-9' but at the end of the day it is a big tax increase on people out there that vote, that care, and I think it’s going to be tough sledding for '9-9-9,'” he said.
He also declined to repudiate the remarks of Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, a Perry supporter who last week, in reference to Romney, called Mormonism a “cult” and suggested Romney was not a Christian.
“I’m not going to say he can’t say what he wants to say,” Perry said. “This is a country where we truly have freedom of expression.”
Perry also appeared on CBS’ “Early Show” and NBC’s “Today Show” Friday in a bid to regain some momentum. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has Perry’s support among Republican voters sliding from a peak of 38% to just 16%.
Paul West of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report from Pittsburgh.