ATLANTIC, Iowa (AP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spent weeks under attack from all sides in the Republican presidential campaign. But in Iowa so far, the party faithful generally give him the benefit of the doubt.
Caucus-goers turned out this week as he crisscrossed the state. They're listening closely to what he's saying.
"I need to know more about him," Iowa Republican committeeman John Meyer said before Perry addressed a county GOP dinner in Jefferson Thursday. "We have to ask him the tough questions."
Just a month has passed since Perry burst into the 2012 campaign and shot to the top of state and national Republican polls. He remains perched there, despite unrelenting attempts to drop him in the political dunk tank.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has taken Perry to task for pushing for major changes to Social Security, a program Perry has called a Ponzi scheme and that millions of seniors live on.
Bill Ward, a Republican activist in a central Iowa county struggling with the weak economy, was among more than 100 people who crammed into a coffee shop sitting on Newton's town square. Perry's comment that Social Security could be handled by individual states troubled him, he said.
"I don't know what to make of it yet. But I was up early this morning thinking about it," said Ward, a retiree open to backing Romney or Perry in the caucuses. "Time will tell."
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann went after Perry in Monday night's debate for issuing an executive order requiring vaccinations against the human papillomavirus for young girls. While Perry now says he should have taken the policy through the Texas Legislature, he defends his action as an attempt to prevent cancer.
For Jim Carley, a tea party activist in suburban Des Moines, government mandating anything just doesn't sit well.
"The more I know more about him, the more I learn he says a lot of things I don't like," Carley said.
But for Bruce Keeney, who heard Perry speak Thursday in Jefferson, Iowa, the explanation on the HPV issue was sufficient. He's leaning toward supporting Perry, although the governor's support for education benefits for the children of illegal immigrants troubles him.
"He's a warrior, a leader," Keeney said. "But we just don't know everything about him yet."