SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Wednesday America can only overcome its economic woes with a leader who "knows how to lead," on the same day he released a scathing Web video calling into question rival Rick Perry's readiness to be president.
Romney's speech to the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce banquet in South Dakota was upbeat and patriotic, a sharp turn from the GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas Tuesday, when Perry and Romney tangled over policy, but also over integrity and honesty.
But the former Massachusetts governor closed his 20-minute talk with a theme now emerging in the increasingly bitter campaign against Perry, his top rival for the nomination.
"The great challenges we have we will overcome," Romney told the audience of about 2,000 at the Sioux Falls convention center, "if we have leaders that will tell the truth, and live with integrity, and who, by virtue of their life experience, know how to lead."
It was a far cry from the pointed accusations Romney and Perry traded during the Tuesday debate.
The squabbling began over the substance of economic development and immigration.
But the back-and-forth devolved into both men, at times, shouting over each other and glaring at each other. Perry, the governor of Texas, questioned Romney's integrity and Romney suggested Perry lacked the temperament to be civil.
Romney's new Web video knits together clips of Perry's recent debates, where he stumbles over his words and at times struggles to make his point. It includes commentary from pundits critiquing Perry, with the final frame including the words, "Rick Perry: Ready to Lead?"
Romney was on his way east after the debate, headlining the dinner and also raising money for his campaign. He attended a private fundraiser in Sioux Falls Wednesday hosted by South Dakota meatpacking company owner Eldon Roth, a donor to Romney's 2008 presidential campaign who has contributed roughly $160,000 to Republican campaigns in the past decade.
Romney planned to spend Thursday campaigning in nearby western Iowa. Having kept a low profile in the leadoff caucus state since finishing a disappointing second four years ago, Romney has gradually stepped up his campaign in Iowa.
Romney plans to headline a town hall meeting in Sioux City and meet with business leaders in Council Bluffs.
It is Romney's first stop in Iowa in more than two months, but comes as the campaign is entering a critical phase.
None of Romney's more socially conservative rivals have established a clear edge with less than three months until the Jan. 3 caucuses. Romney meanwhile is stressing his background as an investment company executive in an appeal to economic conservatives, hoping for a surprise showing in the caucuses.