Image: Rick Perry
Evan Vucci  /  AP
Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, salutes at his first campaign event on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011, in Greenland, N.H. after announcing earlier in the day that he's running for President in 2012.
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updated 8/15/2011 1:01:38 PM ET 2011-08-15T17:01:38

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Monday that he has the best economic record and executive experience in government of any rival in the Republican presidential field, contrasting his credentials with those of his top two opponents, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann.

"I respect all the other candidates in the field but there is no one that can stand toe-to-toe with us," Perry told The Associated Press in an interview at the start of his first full day campaigning in the leadoff caucus state of Iowa.

Perry also offered up his first policy proposal as a candidate, calling for a six-month moratorium on federal business regulations that he said were holding back job growth nationally. Perry brought the proposal forward just as President Barack Obama was traveling to the Midwest for a bus tour and speeches on the economy.

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It was nothing short of an attempt by Perry to establish himself as the strongest Republican able to challenge Obama on jobs — and lay claim to Romney's mantel of jobs candidate.

Perry, the newest GOP candidate in the field, made the comments as the Republican race shifts into sharper focus.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has emphasized his business experience, sits atop national polls. But he's now facing a double-barreled threat from Perry, Texas' longest-serving governor who formally entered the GOP race Saturday, and Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who won a test vote of Iowans that same day.

In the interview, Perry never directly criticized the two even when given opportunities to comment on them directly. Rather, he promoted his own job-growth and gubernatorial records — and let the contrast speak for itself.

Story: Bachmann, Perry share billing but avoid each other

Romney is stressing more his decades in the business world as he seeks to be seen as the strongest candidate on the economy. He's been criticized by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman for Massachusetts ranking 47th in terms of job growth, while Utah ranked No. 1.

Perry sidestepped an opportunity to assail Romney, saying: "Trying to compare the job creation and the numbers of jobs with any other state is just not an apples to apples comparison."

But Perry also said that the more than 1 million jobs added to the rolls in Texas in his 10 years as governor make him the strongest choice for GOP voters on their top priority.

Perry also said Republicans were looking for a tested candidate, and that no other candidate had compiled the record of economic development or legislative success.

It was a reference to Bachmann.

Video: GOP strategist: Expect 'ax fight' between Perry, Bachmann (on this page)

She has faced criticism from rivals — including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out of the race Sunday — who have accused her of having accomplished little in her three terms in the U.S. House compared with the record of a governor.

"It's a fair comparison," Perry said. "Understanding how that process works, but more importantly making that process work, of which we have done in Texas, is inarguably better than ... anyone who is aspiring to be the president."

Perry spent his first full day in Iowa at breakfast with Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, at the governor's mansion in Des Moines. He also was visiting the Iowa State Fair, and meeting privately with other Republican elected officials. He was planning to travel to Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, before holding a business roundtable in Dubuque Tuesday.

Branstad said it's clear Perry will compete hard in Iowa.

"He will compete," Branstad said, adding: "He's kind of an exciting new entry into the race, not to detract from the other candidates."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Perry pitches presidential bid in Iowa

  1. Transcript of: Perry pitches presidential bid in Iowa

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Now we turn to politics, the campaign trail of 2011 for 2012 , and for the Republicans it's a different ball game after this weekend. They have an altered lineup and a big-name new candidate. Now the president has joined in with a three- state bus tour of his own to lay out his case. We have two reports on this tonight, beginning with Kelly O'Donnell in Des Moines . Kelly , good evening.

    KELLY O'DONNELL reporting: Good evening, Brian . It took just 48 hours to really shake up this race. Saturday's straw poll victory gives Michele Bachmann some new stature. It forced Tim Pawlenty to abandon his campaign. But the biggest difference right now, the Texas governor is off and running.

    Governor RICK PERRY: How's the John Deere man doing?

    O'DONNELL: Bringing his Texas -size personality to the Iowa State Fair for the first time ...

    Gov. PERRY: This way.

    O'DONNELL: ... Rick Perry , the longest-serving governor in Texas history , told Iowa he's ready for the White House .

    Gov. PERRY: I think you want a president that is passionate about America , that's in -- that's in love with America .

    O'DONNELL: Perry aides said their first goal is a stumble-free campaign rollout. Do you feel you're behind at all, just in timing?

    Gov. PERRY: Oh, you know, I got a little time to make up, I know that. I got -- I got in a little bit late.

    O'DONNELL: Introducing himself to voters as the son of a farmer, an Eagle Scout and Air Force pilot, Perry paid respect to Iowa tradition.

    Gov. PERRY: This is what it's all about...

    Unidentified Man: This is what it's about.

    Gov. PERRY: ...at the Iowa State Fair .

    O'DONNELL: And the voters need to be properly courted.

    Unidentified Woman: And let me tell you something else, I've been a Democrat my whole life and I might have to vote for you.

    Gov. PERRY: You might have to vote for me?

    Woman: I might have to. If I vote for...

    Gov. PERRY: Give me a chance.

    O'DONNELL: Perry 's launch soaked up attention typically showered on the straw poll winner, Michele Bachmann . Both spoke last night at a GOP dinner in her hometown, Waterloo .

    Representative MICHELE BACHMANN: My goal is to be bold, new, different, actually go in and take your voice.

    O'DONNELL: Appearing for her speech only, Bachmann 's campaign brought its own production of lights and music into a room seating about 300 people, stagecraft made for a TV audience. In that other crucial early voting state , New Hampshire , today national front-runner Mitt Romney was already taking on Perry , claiming his real-world business experience trumps Perry 's record as governor on jobs.

    Former Governor MITT ROMNEY: I wish Rick the very best, and as the process goes on we'll see whose background and skill most fits the need and the needs of the country at a critical time like this.

    O'DONNELL: And Romney insisted today that even though he has to engage and react to Perry , that that won't change his message, so he says. And tonight Michele Bachmann is headed off to South Carolina for her own bus tour in that

    other important state. Brian: Kelly O'Donnell at the fair in Des Moines tonight. Kelly ,

    WILLIAMS:

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