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Perry, Romney to hold competing appearances in Manchester tonight as lawmaker defects from Perry to Romney

Senior Political Reporter

October 27. 2011 10:38PM

MANCHESTER - Texas Gov. Rick Perry will bring his 're-booted' presidential campaign, complete with a new organizational hierarchy and a new plan for an optional flat tax, to New Hampshire today, but he won't have the first primary state to himself.

After Perry had booked four stops in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney's campaign at midweek announced the former Massachusetts governor will hold a town hall meeting tonight, and it just happens to be at the same time Perry will appear before 450 conservatives at a fundraising dinner for the influential Cornerstone Action issues group.

The simultaneous events will take place just a few miles apart, both in Manchester.

Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul will also be back in the state today, with a morning speech in Nashua and his own town hall meeting tonight in Hampstead.

When Perry arrives today, he'll also find that an influential state lawmaker has bolted his campaign in favor of Romney.

The New Hampshire Union Leader has learned that eight-term state Rep. Norman Major, R-Plaistow, who backed Perry just more than a month ago, is now with Romney.

Major, who heads the Rockingham County delegation in the New Hampshire House and is vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in an interview he became less impressed with Perry during October.

'When I met Perry, I listened to him and he represented all the things I wanted to see accomplished,' Major said. 'He accomplished a lot in the state of Texas, but as I saw him in the debates and how he handles himself, I realized he isn't going to beat Obama.'

Major said Perry 'has a lot of good credentials, but I guess he needs to go through what Romney went through last time and get that experience of running for President. That way he will be more presidential and think more nationally.

'All the answers don't come from Texas,' said Major. 'If he develops more of a national expertise, he'll go far.'

Major said Romney 'is more presidential and I think stands a better chance of beating Obama than Perry does.

Perry, after adding several nationally known GOP strategists to his campaign organizational chart this week, after getting much attention for his 20 percent flat-tax plan, and after being backed by magazine publisher Steve Forbes, has gone on the attack against Romney.

On the cable network CNBC earlier this week, Perry labeled Romney a 'fat cat,' referring to his personal wealth.

Perry also continued criticizing the health care plan Romney signed into law in Massachusetts, calling it, through a spokesman, an 'albatross' for the Bay State.

Perry has called Romney a flip-flopper on that and other issues and has promised, 'You won't hear any shape-shifting nuance from me.'

When Romney was initially unclear about his position on an Ohio ballot issue that would diminish the influence of organized labor this week, Perry's campaign accused him of 'finger-in-the-wind politics.' Romney later clarified that he backed the state measure.

Perry, even while revving up his campaign and his rhetoric, stirred plenty of controversy of his own this week.

In an interview with Parade magazine, he expressed doubt about the authenticity of the birth certificate President Barack Obama produced earlier this year.

'Why did he even get involved in that?' Rep. Major asked. 'That isn't presidential.'

After rocky performances in the debates he has participated in so far, Perry, through spokesman Ray Sullivan, said earlier this week he may not participate in any debates following the one he has committed to in Michigan on Nov. 9.

Perry has four stops scheduled in the state today. He will file his paperwork to be a candidate in the first-in-the-nation primary at midday at the State House and then attend a reception at the Barley House, across the street from the State House.

He will visit the Union Leader for an interview to be taped by C-SPAN for a later broadcast and then attend the Cornerstone dinner.

Romney has only the town hall event planned for this visit, but spokesman Ryan Williams said it was the former Massachusetts governor's 16th such event in the state.

Williams denied the Romney town hall was a calculated attempt to steal at least part of the spotlight from Perry's big day in the first-primary state. It's just a coincidence, he said.

'This had been on our calendar for quite some time,' Williams said. 'Governor Romney is in the state frequently. There would be more days that he and Governor Perry would overlap if Governor Perry were actually campaigning in New Hampshire, holding town halls and meeting with voters on a regular basis.

'But (Perry) is just not up here that much,' Williams said, noting that Romney's visit today will be his third to the state in a week.

Today will be Perry's first visit to New Hampshire since a GOP debate at Dartmouth College on Oct. 11.

The Texan is running hard in Iowa and South Carolina, but the jury is out on how committed he will be to New Hampshire in the final two months of the campaign given that virtually all polls of the state show him in single-digits and Romney far ahead of the pack.

Perry has a full-time staff of nine in New Hampshire, and supporters say he is serious about challenging Romney here. Romney, who has 10 New Hampshire staffers, has learned from his loss in 2008 to John McCain not to take New Hampshire for granted, his supporters insist.

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