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Rick Perry in New Hampshire: Evangelical cowboy faces a rough ride

A conservative Christian, Gov. Rick Perry is expected to run strongest in the South. His attempts to make inroads in New Hampshire Thursday showed mixed signs of success.

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Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry shakes hands with workers during a campaign visit to Epoch Homes Thursday in Concord, N.H.

Jim Cole/AP

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If Texas Gov. Rick Perry has an inner Evangelical cowboy, he kept it on a tight rein during his second day in the Granite State Thursday. Save for an oversize belt buckle, a couple quick “God bless yous,” and a relaxed gait that comes off as saddle soreness, Governor Perry was all suit and tie, and jobs, jobs, jobs.

The impressions that Perry makes in New Hampshire are important. When it comes to the 2012 presidential primary season, this is seen as "Romney country" – bordering Massachusetts, where Mitt Romney was governor, and also more in line with Mr. Romney's centrist platform.

But New Hampshire could provide a glimpse of Perry's prospects for success – both in the primaries and in a potential general election faceoff with President Obama. While the conservative Perry, an overt Evangelical Christian, seems likely to win wide support across the South, any show of strength in a purple state like New Hampshire – neither red nor blue – would bolster his campaign and point to the potential for broader appeal among November voters.

Perry has much to gain and little to lose from New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary early next year, it would seem. But based on the reactions from his first official campaign foray here, state residents are mixing some skepticism with a curiosity to see what all the buzz is about.

A crowd of about 100 greeted Perry at his first stop, Portsmouth, with half a dozen people holding up signs of support and opposition outside a café, Popovers on the Square. The crowd was split between Democrats who came to challenge the governor with questions (or to shout at him), unsuspecting vacationers to the seaside town, and undecided voters who wanted to see what he had to say.

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