Rick Perry, quoting Isaiah and accidentally attacking NATO, courts the Iowa Dutch

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Windmill in Pella, Iowa. (cityofpella.com)
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Ben Jacobs

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PELLA, Iowa—"It isn’t the windmills that makes us different,” said Shelley Buhrow, describing her pocket of Iowa. “It’s our Christian values.”

Pella is the center of one of two ethnic enclaves of Dutch-descended Americans in Iowa. The highway in both directions is lined with Dutch Reformed churches and Christian schools. Every other business seems to have a proprietor with a surname that starts with “Van.” The town square features the Tulip Toren, a 65-foot high structure emblazoned in the red, white and blue of the Dutch flag and featuring a carving of a Dutch girl. There are windmills.

Rick Perry, the Texas governor who briefly looked like the front-runner in the Republican presidential primary, spent part of yesterday marketing himself to Iowa's Dutch population as “the true conservative” in the race. He visited Pella, then stopped 15 minutes down the road in Oskaloosa, which is also heavily Dutch.

In each town, Perry made a stop at Smokey Row coffee shop, a popular chain whose sandwiches come with Miracle Whip.

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Perry delivered roughly the same speech in both places, and at both events he had the controversial sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., Joe Arapaio, as his warm-up act.

Perry opened each appearance by saying what candidates often do after the media as written them off, asking Iowans to vote their values, not according to any perceived electability. He said he was a “consistent conservative” (unlike a certain former governor of Massachusetts) and not a “Washington Insider" (unlike a certain former House speaker), and that he didn’t want to allow Iran to get nuclear weapons (unlike Ron Paul).

It seemed to impress his audience in Oskaloosa, where he did not make a single verbal blunder. In Pella, he was less impressive, railing against U.S. involvement in NATO for over a minute until he realized he was delivering his talking points on the United Nations. (He called NATO anti-Israel, among other things, before he caught himself.)

But he still found a certain rhythm, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he was speaking from a binder of notes. He seemed most relatable when he talked about his background as a boy from Paint Creek whose father was a tailgunner on a B-17.

He built up to a finale each time in which he repurposed the story of Isaiah, likening God to the American people staggering under the colossal debt of Barack Obama asking "who shall I send." Perry, in the role of the biblical prophet of old, then said, “Here am I.”

It was a performance that impressed Deborah and Josiah Tuttle, a mother and son from Bussey, a small town south of Pella, who began their meal while waiting for Perry to arrive with a long grace asking God for guidance and wisdom in the process of choosing a president.

A spry, middle-aged farmer named Paul Fyaanrdt described Perry after the speech as his “Plan B,” after Rick Santorum. He said he just wasn’t sure Perry could “go toe-to-toe with Obama.”

Len Gosselink, a retired Christian bookstore owner and prospective Republican candidate for the state legislature from the district just outside Pella, said he preferred Newt Gingrich. But he said he liked both Gingrich and Perry better than the other candidates, who he said didn't have “enough leadership.”

Carol deRonde, a lifelong Pella resident, preferred Romney. She wasn’t wild about him but said just accepted that he was the only candidate who could win a general election against Obama (and who was therefore the only person who could keep the United States from “becoming Greece.”)

Don Buhrow, a part-time Abraham Lincoln impersonator (and the husband of Shelley), quoted the end of the Gettysburg Address after Perry’s event. Like the real Lincoln, he said, he hoped that “this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” He felt cautiously optimistic that Perry, with his emphasis on issues like border security and abortion, might just be the man to make that happen.

Ben Jacobs is a frequent contributor to the Boston Globe. He will be filing Iowa dispatches for Capital throughout the week.