With Little Support in N.H., Perry Moves On to S.C.

Gov. Rick Perry during his caucus night speech on Jan. 3, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Gov. Rick Perry during his caucus night speech on Jan. 3, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Gov. Rick Perry’s last event in New Hampshire was a Sunday morning NBC/Facebook debate on Meet the Press. And even though he was focused on South Carolina, he left Granite State Republicans with a reminder of his support for nonunion jobs.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

“I’m a right-to-work guy. I come from a right-to-work state," Perry told the crowd in Concord. "And I’ll tell ya, if New Hampshire wants to become the magnet for job creation in the Northeast, you pass that right-to-work legislation in this state.”

His presence in New Hampshire wan't about appealing to the voters there as much as it was was about showing his face to the nation after his poor showing in Iowa. He held no campaign stops and no town hall events in the state. Perry is planning that for a 14-day blitz in South Carolina, where he hopes to convince voters he’s still a viable alternative to the other Republicans.

“Who is it that can beat Obama, who is it that can invigorate the Tea Party, who is it that can take the message of smaller outsider government that’s can truly change that place?," Perry said. "As I look from here down to Rick Santorum, I see insiders."

Perry already has a shared interest with South Carolina's heavy evangelical population. In fact, several national evangelical media owners and leaders met in Texas over the weekend to see if they could agree on a candidate to back. No word yet on whether or not they came to a decision.

Sarah Posner, the senior editor for the online magazine Religion Dispatches, said Perry will be fighting Santorum and Newt Gingrich for the social conservative vote.

“Also local pastors — folks that people outside of South Carolina people probably haven’t heard of," Posner said.

Perry spent 12 days touring Iowa in the run-up to the state's Jan. 3 caucuses. There he refined his message and avoided any major off-the-cuff stumbles, but he still finished fifth. Robert Oldendick, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina, said that for the Perry campaign to get a second wind in South Carolina, he’ll need voters to believe he is the best person to take on front-runner Mitt Romney.

“Is there really one person that we can support that can derail Romney here and force it to be a closer race?" Oldendick said. "I’m not getting much of a sense that Perry is being seen as that candidate.”

Oldendick believes that a poor showing by Perry on Tuesday in New Hampshire won't necessarily replay in South Carolina. What may hurt Perry is South Carolina’s evangelical base — the same people who have rallied around him throughout his Texas political career.

“The evangelical base really chafes at the idea that nonevangelicals might see evangelicals as not ready for prime time, not ready for the national political stage," Posner said. "And I think that’s what Perry demonstrated in these debates — that he wasn’t ready for the national stage. And I think that’s a bit of an embarrassment that they don’t want to revitalize.”

Perry may also run out of money after his blitz in South Carolina. It will take a strong finish there to bring in the money necessary for any additional campaigning.

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