CLIVE, Iowa – Rick Perry’s campaign is fighting back forcefully to defend his record and reassure supporters concerned about his shaky debate performances, sending the Texas governor’s wife on the campaign trail to explain his position on immigration and holding telephone town halls where the candidate himself engaged voters.

During a swing through Iowa, Texas first lady Anita Perry argued that her husband, who has faced fire about his support for in-state college tuition rates for illegal immigrants and his opposition to a border fence, was being unfairly castigated.

Anita Perry said she had heard such criticism in Iowa and felt she needed to clarify her husband’s positions, saying the state offers the benefit to residents of Texas who have attended a state school for a minimum of three years, have earned a high school degree and are pursuing citizenship.

“It is not a subsidy when you consider Washington has failed to secure the border, has shown no signs of dealing with the millions here illegally,” she told a Polk County Republican Central Committee gathering Tuesday night. “States like Texas are left with one of two choices — whether we take care of those populations or they get on welfare, which is greater cost to our taxpayers, or we give them an opportunity to graduate from Texas schools, the opportunity to be a contributing member of society.”

She noted that the law passed virtually unanimously, and that her husband had opposed granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, fought against sanctuary cities and recently billed the federal government $350 million for the cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants.

Earlier this week, the governor held telephone town halls with party activists in Iowa and South Carolina to discuss immigration, Social Security and his support for an executive order requiring girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease.

Anita Perry also asserted that although her husband did not have as “polished” a performance as other candidates in recent debates, he is genuine.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Perry acknowledged that her husband had not fared well in recent debates.

“When you have seven arrows being shot at you and you’re one person in the middle, 30 seconds of rebuttal doesn’t give you a lot of time,” she said.

Perry said comparisons between her husband and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were not fair.

“Gov. Romney’s been running for president for four or five years, and that was my husband’s third debate … on a national stage,” she said.