Perry: I was just having a good time in New Hampshire

Rick Perry offered a response to criticism and speculation of a recent appearance in New Hampshire that he had been “silly” or possibly under the influence of alcohol or medication. National Journal captures his relaxed defense, asking them to check in with Dan Balz of the Washington Post, who had reported on Perry’s “loose and playful” appearance:

Hours after several well-known political pundits commented publicly on his “odd” behavior at a New Hampshire banquet last week, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry on Tuesday shrugged off the buzz surrounding a video of the event that has gone viral.

“I would always tell people to go back and ask Dan Balz,” Perry told reporters at a campaign stop, referring to a weekend column in which the veteran Washington Post reporter described Perry as “loose, extremely animated, and even playful” when he spoke on Friday to a banquet of conservative activists in Manchester, N.H. “This was a great crowd, good response, and I guess you can do anything you want with a video and make it look any way you want, but it felt good, felt great,” Perry said. “I felt the message got across very well.”

The performance got distinctly different reviews on Tuesday morning at National Journal’s Election Preview. Two veteran political strategists suggested that Perry was under the influence. The Texas governor’s ebullient performance was “not presidential,” said Democratic consultant Steve McMahon, adding, “Perhaps he had been drinking.” Republican Charlie Black, who advised former presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, agreed that Perry’s behavior was “odd.” Noting that Perry has had back surgery, Black added: “Maybe it was back medicine that he had too much of.”

How did Balz report it?  There isn’t any indication of a problem in Perry’s demeanor, and reported that the audience didn’t seem to have a problem with it, either:

Perry took the stage at a downtown hotel ballroom in Manchester. He appeared to feel totally at home, more so than in many other settings during the campaign. He was loose and extremely animated, even playful. …

He extolled the virtues of freedom, saying that single word sums up his presidential campaign. He promoted his new economic plan that includes a flat tax with a 20 percent income tax rate for individuals and, with a dramatic flourish, pulled a postcard-size paper from his pocket to illustrate how simple the filing form would be for most taxpayers.

He talked about his upbringing in rural Texas and the values that were instilled in him there. He highlighted his credentials as a strong opponent of abortion. “The bottom line is this, if you want to stop Washington’s many violations of the 10th Amendment, especially when it comes to the most basic principle of protecting life, then we must make President Obama a one-term president. We must!”

The audience gave him a standing ovation.

In fact, Balz wrote that the contrast in styles between Mitt Romney and Perry that day highlighted their style differences, and that New Hampshire voters might keep those in mind, which in the context of the article indicated that Perry would have the better of that contrast.

The Perry speech will probably become a Rohrschach test that indicates whether one supports or opposes him.  I finally watched it today, and my sense is that Perry is trying to reboot himself from an image of a bully in the previous debates to someone whose warmth and humor comes across as primary parts of his personality.  It’s possible to overdo that, certainly, and most people don’t want a comedian for President, which is why “not Presidential” might very well be a fair criticism.  I didn’t see anything that indicated Perry looked drunk or medicated; he had a similar sense of showmanship in 2010 when addressing the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.  There is room for criticism in how much he might overdo the folksiness, but he’s not slurring his words or incoherent in the speech.

Finally, Perry had a word for the media on their pursuit of the story about Cain and alleged improprieties:

“Until things go past allegation to fact, I just try to leave them alone,” Perry said.

From what I see so far, the rest of the Republican field seems similarly inclined — except for Michele Bachmann:

Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann says her party can’t have a nominee with “surprises” in his record, a jab at rival Herman Cain as he defends himself against allegations of sexual harassment.

The congresswoman from Minnesota told a meeting of Baptists in Iowa on Tuesday night that the GOP needs to have a candidate the party can trust.

Standing in the pulpit of a Marshalltown church, she told supporters, in her words, “This is the year when we can’t have any surprises with our candidate.”

She’s competing for the same Tea Party voters as Cain has attracted, so the attack makes some sense — but I doubt this will endear her to fellow conservatives.

Update: I think Allahpundit noted this in an earlier post, but it’s worth repeating:

“I can tell you unequivocally he wasn’t drinking at the event and he hadn’t been drinking prior to the event,” said Kevin Smith, the executive director of Cornerstone Action, the conservative group that hosted the event over the weekend. “I was sitting with him, and I found him to be very engaging with all of the people he was talking with, he was very articulate.”

Smith, who has not endorsed any candidate, said that Perry drank “only water” at the event and that his speech was well-received by the audience. Smith spent much of the time before the speech with Perry, including dining with him at the event’s head table beforehand.

“When I started seeing all of the blog stuff going up on Sunday and the video going viral it caught me by surprise,” said Smith. “He was definitely more animated than we’ve seen him during the campaign but the reports that he was buzzed or whatever never crossed any of our minds.”