Perry: I'm afraid of Obama as "quarterback"

Former presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite
Former presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry
J. Scott Applewhite

A confident Rick Perry returned to the national stage at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday and pledged to keep fighting for conservative ideals, though he neglected to mention Newt Gingrich, the GOP candidate he endorsed when he dropped out of the presidential race.

As he did during his time as a candidate, Perry focused much of his speech on criticizing President Obama, even seeking to turn to the GOP's advantage a now-famous Chrysler ad with Clint Eastwood that aired during the Super Bowl that many said seemed to be pro-Obama .

"If it's halftime in America," Perry said, citing a line by Eastwood in the ad, "I'm fearful of what the final score's going to be if we let this president start the second half as the quarterback."

Despite a speech devoid of Gingrich mentions, Perry did briefly address the end of his own campaign, reprising a line he first delivered earlier this week in Texas, at his first public event since dropping out of the race on Jan. 19. His presidential campaign didn't fail, he said, invoking "unique way of addressing defeat" among Aggies, graduates of his alma mater, Texas A&M.

"Aggies never lose. We just run out of time. So you could say that my presidential campaign just ran out of time. But I haven't run out on the ideas or my belief in our shared conservative ideas," he told an enthusiastic audience.

Former Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner, who accompanied him on the trip to Washington, said the governor is continuing to advocate for the Gingrich in interviews and raise money for him.

Perry's speech reprised several ideas about keeping the federal government out of the states that came up on the campaign trail. He talked about getting Washington out of local school decisions and criticized the Justice Department for lawsuits like the one it filed in South Carolina challenging the state's new Voter ID law.

And Perry urged Republicans to embrace fiscal conservatism so as not to lose their identities.

"We do the American people no great service if we replace the current embodiment of big government with a lukewarm version of the same," he said. "We need to stop pretending that the main goal of the Republican governance is to do the same thing as Democrats, but just don't spend as much money."

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.