ELLSTON, Iowa (AP) — Rick Perry still prides himself on being a Bubba.
The former Texas governor relishes laying on the country-boy charm, greeting voters with “Howdy,” talking of growing up on a cotton farm that had an outhouse until he was 6 and boasting that he’s spent more time atop a John Deere tractor than anyone else running for the Republican presidential nomination.
Unlike during his short-lived presidential bid four years ago, though, today’s Perry is decidedly less cowboy — going for country humble instead of country strong. He’s traded his brown ostrich boots, nicknamed “Freedom” and “Liberty,” for sensible shoes, diluted his rugged persona with professorial glasses and tempered the shoot-from-the-hip style that made him something of a gunslinger governor.
Out among Iowa’s summer fields of not-yet-high corn, Perry is hoping he can stand out without his signature swagger. Some wonder, though, if Perry hasn’t lost his distinctiveness, becoming just another middle-aged candidate in casual business attire.
“He looks so different from four years ago,” said Nancy Klein Dykstra, 58, who accepted Perry’s firm handshake at a community center in rural Ellston, about 80 miles southeast of Des Moines. “I thought I remembered him being kind of a robust, big guy, big presence.”
Perry admits that he’s ditched much of the bravado of his first presidential run. He hopes a more down-to-earth approach will help him in Iowa, where he’s spent more time than any presidential candidate so far. He says of Iowans: “I don’t think they care whether it’s someone who has any swagger or not.”
Still, it’s been a mega-makeover for Perry, once given a “Top Cowboy of Texas” award, and who used a laser-sighted pistol to shoot a coyote while jogging in a sparsely populated corner of Austin during his time as governor. On Saturday, Perry walked on stage at a conservative forum in black dress shoes; no fewer than four of his Republican rivals wore cowboy boots at the same event.
The transformation isn’t sitting well with some back home.
“He’s gotta wear boots; he’s from Texas,” said Rocky Carroll, a Houston bootmaker who has been stitching together custom pairs for Perry since he became state agriculture commissioner in 2001.
Perry wears size 10
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