Rick Perry gets big welcome from Florida conservatives

Rick Perry
Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry Pool,AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

ORLANDO, Fla. -- After putting in a disappointing debate performance the night before, Texas Gov. Rick Perry could take comfort on Friday in the ecstatic reception he got from a large crowd of conservatives meeting here to take a gander at the presidential field.

"As conservatives, we know that values and vision matter. It's not who's the slickest candidate or the smoothest debater that we need to elect," he told 500 attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference. "Remember President Clinton? Man, he could sell ice cubes to Eskimos and the next day be against ice cubes."

The remark was a dig at Romney, who struggled with a reputation as flip-flopper on issues during his 2008 presidential campaign. And it also served Perry's purpose of portraying himself as the regular Joe in the campaign, in contrast to the "slickest" candidate, Romney.

Romney, who spoke before Perry at the event, received a warm welcome. But the crowd stood and cheered as soon as Perry took the stage at the Orange County Convention Center. The Texas governor accentuated his usual anti-Washington stump speech with references to former President Ronald Reagan, a conservative icon. "We need to push through to that shining city on the hill," Perry said. "As President Reagan said, we need bold colors, not pale pastels."

He also opened a new line of attack against President Obama, blasting him for proposing to charge retired military veterans $200 a year to stay on the Tricare-for-Life that supplements Medicare coverage. "Our veterans have already sacrificed enough for this country," Perry said. "Leave them alone."

Perry delivered his dual criticism of Obama's health care law and the one that Romney passed in Massachusetts, which the crowd seemed to love. "The nanny state was not needed for our forefathers," he said. "The nanny state didn't groom our greatest generation, my father's generation, who freed millions of people from oppression during World War II. The nanny state didn't inspire innovation and technology, the creation of wealth of the entrepreneurial spirit."

He brought the crowd to its feet again at the end of his speech, with, "If we want America working again, we need Washington to get out of the way."

Watch highlights from CPAC in Orlando below:

GOP hopefuls court conservative voters