CORONA DEL MAR — With a distinct Texas drawl and plain-spoken message, GOP front-runner and Texas Gov. Rick Perry revved up his growing tea party base in Orange County on Thursday, joking the area is fancy like a raspberry or blueberry pie.
Drenched in sunlight at Roger's Gardens, hundreds of conservatives — many self-identifying as tea partiers — hooted and hollered as Perry railed against President Obama and big government.
"Mr. President, we can't spend our way to prosperity. It does not work," he said to raucous applause. "Don't spend all the money we have. They could learn a little of that in Sacramento."
After entering the race for the Republican nomination last month, Perry has leaped to the front of the pack, already ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep.Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
On Wednesday, Romney and Perry stood out during Wednesday's televised Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
Perry was in Reagan's shadow again in Newport Beach, Roger's Gardens owner Gavin Herbert pointed out. Reagan was the last governor to visit the botanical boutique.
In an eight-minute speech with his wife, Anita, by his side, Perry criticized the Obama administration's health-care reform, and its handling of unemployment and the national economy. He boasted of his home state's job growth during the recession.
"Nobody's got a record like I got in Texas, or in the country, for that matter," he said. "It's time to simplify and lower the tax on the job creators in this country."
Perry did not touch on what opponents are calling his most controversial statement of late Thursday: calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme.
But he didn't need to, according to some audience members who watched Wednesday night's debate.
"I like that he's not shirking away from the criticisms of the mainstream media," said Melissa Breiter of Yorba Linda. "He has backbone. To me that shows leadership."
Breiter said she more closely aligns with Bachmann, but "it seems like the steam is running out of her campaign."
"I guess I'm hedging my bets," she said. "So far [Perry's] my man."