DERRY, N.H. -- Regardless of what happens with the Republican National Committee's voting calendar, the first primary of the 2012 GOP race will begin in New Hampshire and the two Republican frontrunners are visiting the Granite State this week, making it a prime battleground in their escalating war of words.
Perry shows up in southern New Hampshire Friday-Romney's home turf and a place where he leads substantially in polls--continuing his claims that Romney is a big-spending, big-government Republican.
"I knew when I got into this race I would have my hands full fighting President Obama's big government agenda, I just didn't think it would be in the Republican primary," Perry said Friday in reference to Romney.Swatting at Romney on jobs and energy, and citing the oft-used criticism of the Massachusetts health care law Romney put into place, Perry tried to paint Romney as too liberal to be the GOP nominee.
"As Republican voters decide who is best suited to lead this country in a new direction by stopping the spending spree and scrapping Obamacare, I am confident they will choose a nominee who has governed on conservative principles, not one whose health care policies paved the way for Obamacare," Perry said.
"In Texas, we've cleaned the air while creating jobs and adding millions in population. Another state - Massachusetts - was among the first states to implement its own cap-and-trade program which included limits on carbon emissions for power plants."
And those conservative positions have made Perry popular with the conservative base of the Republican party, especially in southern and Midwestern states.
But a Fox News poll out Thursday shows much of Perry's early nationwide momentum has disappeared. The Romney camp seized on the momentum shift and began attacking in advance of Perry's weekend visit, coming just short of calling Texas Gov. Rick Perry a liar.
"Mr. Perry has a real hard time getting his stories straight. He has proved that when he is talking about TARP, he's proved that when he's talking about Hillary Care, he's proved that when he's talked about his reasons for putting in place a vaccine, he has a hard time with getting the stories straight," Romney said of Perry in a Fox News interview after a town hall event in Goffstown Wednesday.
He also defended backing away from some of the positions for which Perry criticized him. Romney said the evolution of his positions is a product of private sector experience. "In the private sector, if you don't change when the facts change, you'll get fired for being stubborn," he said.
The Romney campaign also released a new web video Friday that criticizes a Texas law Perry signed that allows children of illegal immigrants to get in-state college tuition in the Lone-Star State. Perry said at last week's Fox News/Google debate that people against that policy were "heartless," but has since backed off, saying he regretted the comment.
Perry addresses a crowd at the Derry Opera House Friday evening, a place where candidates have wooed New Hampshire voters for generations.
Fox News Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron contributed to this report.