Perry Going All Out Against Romney in South Carolina

Gov. Rick Perry in Iowa on Dec. 29, 2011.
Gov. Rick Perry in Iowa on Dec. 29, 2011.

Gov. Rick Perry needs a strong showing in the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21 to continue his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Money and support will dry up with another fifth-place finish. The Perry campaign’s latest strategy is attacking the business practices of front-runner Mitt Romney.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

It’s not as if Perry hasn’t gone after Romney before. In Iowa, Perry branded Romney a Wall Street insider. But his latest gambit, expressed in a Wednesday morning speech in Lexington, is more specific.

“I happen to think that companies like Bain Capital could have come in and helped these companies, if they truly were venture capitalists, but they’re not,” Perry said. “They’re vulture capitalists.”

Bain Capital is the venture capital firm Romney co-founded in 1984. Perry branded the company "vultures," he said, for closing two businesses in South Carolina instead of restructuring them.

The message resonated with Estelle Morgan of Lexington.

“He did fire a lot of people,” Morgan said. “They just got released from their jobs, and he got the money.”

It’s also a predictable political strategy. While the tone may be a bit harsh, attacking the candidate ahead of you is a staple of any campaign playbook. Perry, polling in fifth place here, also peppers his speeches with jabs at Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

And now that Romney is leading in South Carolina polls, it’s the last chance for any of the Not-Romney candidates to put a chink in his front-runner armor. Every GOP presidential nominee since 1980 has won the South Carolina primary.

Perry’s attempts to label Romney a capitalist millionaire who doesn’t care about working-class America did the trick for Charles Ray of Lexington.

“When I saw Romney the other day, said he liked firing people, I saw that look on his face that I’ve seen with other people that were called hit men,” Ray said. “That that’s all they were to do, was to go out and fire people. And I saw that look in his eye, and that scared me.”

But there is a level of inconsistency in Perry’s Romney labels, as Sean Hannity of Fox News pointed out Tuesday night. He told Perry he sounded a lot like an Occupy Wall Street protester.

“I just think, as a conservative, to say that those people that are willing to invest their money for companies that have been mismanaged or they’re headed for bankruptcy and they come in and try to get them profitable again and to say they’re vultures and they’re unethical, I mean, that’s about as severe a charge as you can make,” Hannity said.

At his first campaign stop Wednesday morning, Perry was still blasting Romney. But by the second stop, there was no mention of Bain Capital, Romney or vulture capitalism.

That was just fine for Columbia resident Colleen Morrow. She came to the event still undecided but said she didn’t like the recent Romney attacks.

“In capitalism there are some winners and some losers,” Morrow said. "And it’s unfortunate, but that’s how our system works. And I’m not going to condemn Romney for that. I frankly don’t know enough about it.”

When Perry stopped by her table after his speech, she leaned forward, hugged him and told him she had decided to vote for him.

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