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Santorum's Granite-State Stall May Help Perry Santorum's Granite-State Stall May Help Perry

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CAMPAIGN 2012

Santorum's Granite-State Stall May Help Perry

Perry focuses on Santorum supporters, veterans in South Carolina.

LEXINGTON, S.C.—On Tuesday, Rick Perry was enjoying the last day of being the only player in South Carolina.

With his rivals duking it out in New Hampshire, the Texas governor campaigned in the Palmetto State, lambasting front-runner Mitt Romney for his work at Bain Capital and rival Rick Santorum for his support of earmarks.
 
At his second stop of the day, in Fort Mill, Perry unleashed the battle cry he hopes will prove true as he fights to save his struggling presidential campaign: This isn’t our Alamo. This is our San Jacinto,” Perry said, envisioning a decisive victory that proves he is a viable candidate for the GOP nomination.
   
Perry’s fate in South Carolina may ultimately rest with one man--his own Santa Anna--and that is Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania who finished fourth or fifth in New Hampshire on Tuesday after surging to a second-place victory in Iowa a week earlier. Santorum’s falter gives Perry a shot at consolidating social conservatives and tea party activists who have a heavy presence in South Carolina.

The political narrative both men are hoping to create is so similar that they look to the same election for inspiration: the 1980 Republican primary. At a campaign event in Greenville on Sunday, Santorum likened himself to Ronald Reagan, who recovered from a narrow loss to George H.W. Bush in the Iowa caucuses by beating him soundly in the South Carolina primary.

 

Katon Dawson, Perry’s top adviser in South Carolina, sees a similar opportunity for voters to reject the former Massachusetts governor in favor of Perry, the more conservative candidate. But for that to work, both Perry and Santorum must overcome Romney’s considerable momentum coming out of the Granite State, where he finished a strong first with 38 percent of the vote.
 
“We’re the underdog here,” Dawson said. Perry has fallen to the single digits in recent polls in South Carolina, from his onetime high in the 30s. For the past three days, he has crafted damaging attacks against his opponents, particularly focusing on Romney’s time with venture-capital firm Bain Capital. Perry charges that South Carolinians lost jobs when Bain Capital either shuttered or merged companies, all while turning hefty profits. The next day he compared Romney and Bain to “vultures.”
 
Perry is labeling Santorum a serial “earmarker,” telling voters that while in Congress, Santorum supported a high-priced “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska and a teapot museum in neighboring North Carolina. Perry hopes Santorum will lose favor with the powerful and fiscally conservative tea party contingent that swept Gov. Nikki Haley into office in 2010 (although Haley endorsed Romney).
 
Perry’s biggest obstacle remains a string of weak debate performances in October and November, culminating with his infamous “oops” moment in which he couldn’t remember the third government department he wants to eliminate. Dawson says that the campaign has “erased the top part of the question mark,” and is working to eradicate the rest.
 
J. David Woodard, a political-science professor at Clemson University, isn’t so sure that’s realistic.

“The fact that [President] Obama is so rhetorically gifted that you cannot afford to make a mistake against him, and everybody wants to win in the Republican Party, and they just want to go with the guy who they think can do that,” he said. “They’re not convinced that [Perry] is that guy.”
 
Put in South Carolinian terms: “He’s kind of like Clemson’s football team,” Woodard said. “They look really great for eight games and then lost the Orange Bowl 70-33.”
 
Perry does have one distinct advantage that was missing in the Hawkeye State: a large population of military veterans. Perry is one of only two candidates with military service—Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is the other. It’s a card he plays regularly, lambasting Obama for cutting military spending. Then he introduces Marine Capt. Dan Moran, who was gravely wounded in Iraq in 2006.
 
“I'm asking you, stand with us,” an emotional Moran told an audience in Greenville during a campaign event on Monday evening. “Fight with us. Don't ever quit.”
  
Perry says he won’t give up. “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,” Perry said in Spartanburg on Sunday. “I am going to stay in this race and stay in this fight because our children and our country are worth the fight.”

That’s a sentiment that was in the air at San Jacinto—but also at the Alamo.

 
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