WATERLOO, Iowa Two of the leading Republican candidates for president avoided confrontation on Sunday as they attended the same Iowa fund-raiser to court the party's social and religious conservatives.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, already seen as a leader in the field despite just entering the 2012 race on Saturday, and Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman aligned with the Tea Party movement, shared a stage and struck the same tune.
"Everybody's got their own issues that matter, but at the end of the day, getting America working again is what the bulk of the people really care about," Perry told a swarm of reporters shortly after arriving in the venue.
During an interview with Radio Iowa a few hours before the Sunday evening event, Bachmann avoided directly criticizing or challenging Perry. Instead, she focused on her victory in the Iowa straw poll on Saturday, calling it "step number one in a long journey."
"I intend to earn every Iowan's vote," she said.
Perry had been expected to enter the race for weeks, setting the stage for a fight with Bachmann to win the support of social conservatives. Already, his entry has voters, even Bachmann supporters, considering a switch to Perry.
John Sabbath, 79, of Cedar Falls, said Bachmann has "the right philosophy" on economics, but "down the line" he might be interested in another candidate like Perry.
"We don't know that much about Rick Perry," he said. "We know some, but not a lot."
Steve Sukup, a businessman, former state legislator and 2002 Republican candidate for governor of Iowa, suggested Perry and Bachmann would make good running mates.
"I think we're seeing the ticket tonight," said Sukup. "I think he's just a solid conservative. He's got the right background ... and then Michele has tremendous enthusiasm."
The event was held in the Electric Park Ballroom in Waterloo, Iowa, a venue Bachmann chose for her own "homecoming" event in June, the evening before formally launching her candidacy with a speech in downtown Waterloo.
Perry told reporters he would spend "a lot of time in Iowa" as part of a broad national campaign in all 50 states. Iowa holds the first vote on party nominees for presidents in early January, followed by New Hampshire and South Carolina before building to multiple states by the end of March.
"We're a long way until the end of the race, and it's a marathon, not a sprint," Perry told reporters. "So we're going to be running hard and spending a lot of time in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and lots of other states."
(Reporting by Kay Henderson; Editing by Todd Eastham)