SPARTANBURG, S.C. -– A feisty Rick Perry returned to South Carolina on Sunday in a last-ditch effort to save his campaign from ending after a disappointing fifth-place finish in Iowa that led him to reassess his candidacy. The Texas governor insisted to voters here that he is not a quitter – and certainly not when the country’s future is at stake.
“If anybody wonders about why I'm in this race, that's why,” Perry said, as he recalled the national debt and the millions of people looking for work. “I have never quit a day in my life. I have never quit in the face of adversity, and I’m not just about to quit on the future of America. I am going to stay in this race and stay in this fight because our children and our country are worth the fight.”
His speech to about 125 voters at the Beacon Drive-In, a popular Spartanburg landmark, focused heavily on his faith, which Perry said has been a “central” part of his life since he accepted Jesus Christ as a 14-year-old. It was a nod to the large and influential population of voters in the northern part of the state that includes this city and neighboring Greenville. Perry will be competing with those voters against fellow candidate Rick Santorum –- and the former Pennsylvania governor is riding a wave of momentum after surging to second place in the Iowa caucuses.
He also played to the state’s animosity toward the National Labor Relations Board, which had fought Boeing Co. last year on its plan to build a new plant in South Carolina. He promised to eliminate the board entirely – “We don’t need that” -- a bold change from his previous position, in which he vowed to appoint pro-business people as members.
Yet Perry did not attack Santorum, as he frequently did in Iowa. Instead, he trained his focus on President Obama, whom he called “out of touch with the soul of this country.”
“He doesn't care, is all I understand, about individuals having the dignity to have a job and take care of their family,” Perry said. “He’s more interested in the next election. Mr. President, I’m more interested in the next generation.”
He also landed a jab at opponent Mitt Romney, who has encouraged people to look at his record to see how he’ll perform -- a claim Perry himself often makes.
“Mitt said if you want to know how I'm going to perform, look at my record. And I have, Mitt,” he said, as the audience chuckled.
Perry will be barnstorming the state until its Jan. 21 primary in the hopes of climbing back into at least the top three contenders. His South Carolina advisors, including former state GOP chairman Katon Dawson, who introduced Perry, believes he has an opportunity in the state rich in evangelical voters and military veterans.
“South Carolina is Rick Perry country,” Dawson promised as he opened the event.