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MANCHESTER, Iowa — Seeking a late surge, Texas Gov. Rick Perry sought Monday to tar GOP presidential rivals Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney for supporting the $700 billion Wall Street bailout and said the billions loaned to banks and other financial institutions at the height of the 2008 financial crisis amounted to “the single biggest act of theft in American history.”

Most of the money has been paid back.

In the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, Perry stressed his credentials as a Washington outsider – someone who he says understands Main Street and is not beholden to the wealthy Wall Street set.

Perry said the values he learned growing up in rural Texas shaped his views.

“No one was going to bail out a dry-land cotton farmer” and no one should have bailed out Wall Street, Perry said in northeastern Iowa.

“This Wall Street bailout is the single biggest act of theft in American history,” he told voters at a pizza buffet. “And, you know, Newt and Mitt, they both were for it. That’s one of the reasons I say that if you really want an individual who is an outsider, someone who has not been engaged in part of that process, I hope you’ll take a look at me.”

Romney and Gingrich supported the Wall Street rescue that was shepherded into law in fall 2008 by Republican President George W. Bush. They have since become critics of the program, which conservative voters tend to loathe.

Perry joined the presidential contest in August to great fanfare but lost his luster following what was widely viewed as erratic behavior and lackluster performances in debates. He is hoping to achieve a comeback by pitching himself as “an outsider who truly believes that we’ve got more taxes and more regulation and more government than most Americans want.”

“We need to make the decision that we’re not going to support bailouts and these wasteful earmarks,” he said.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has remained steady in polling and also has a sizable campaign fund. Gingrich, the former House speaker, has surged in recent weeks as voters started watching the race more closely.

Perry is hoping to leapfrog them both by casting former business executive Romney as a Wall Street insider – although his venture capital firm was based in Massachusetts, not New York – and Gingrich as a Washington elite.

“If you’ll have my back on Jan. 3 at the caucuses here in Iowa,” he told voters. “I’ll have your back for the next four years in Washington, D.C.”

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