After his embarrassing result in Iowa, Rick Perry seemed to get the message the polls have been sending him for months: Republican voters just aren’t that into him. On caucus night, said he’d go back to Texas and figure out what comes next.
But within hours, Perry was sprinting into South Carolina, to make at least one more stand.
Given that the TPM Poll Average shows Perry pulling just 4.8% support in the state, a clear question arises: What on earth is he thinking?
The answer is, team Perry really thinks they can make it happen in South Carolina. The campaign says it really is all-in in the Palmetto State.
“At the end of the day, Gov. Perry is the only Washington outsider in this race, and the only candidate proposing real, substantive conservative reforms that will overhaul Washington, get America working again, and reintroduce fiscal sanity,” spokesperson Liz Mair told me. “Those are key attributes that South Carolina voters care about, especially fiscal, social and Tea Party conservatives who make up a sizable chunk of the electorate in the Palmetto State.”
Perry, of course, has made government reform a huge part of his agenda. He wants a part time Congress, he wants to cut lawmakers’ salaries, he wants to eliminate departments. It’s the kind of thing that supporters say could really resonate in South Carolina.
Mitt Romney’s new surrogate, Sen. John McCain, has been making that case out a line against Rick Santorum in South Carolina, where he points out that unlike the state’s senators, Santorum was pretty friendly to earmarks.
“I think it’s wrong for America and so does Sen. DeMint and so does Sen. Lindsey Graham who have been staunch fighters against earmark and pork barrel spending,” McCain told the South Carolina crowd. “And I know you’re proud of that.”
Indeed, South Carolina Republicans have a long history of backing the kind of candidates who want to turn their government upside down. Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who was popular before he took that Appalachian Trail trip, once brought live piglets down to the state house to protest what he said was the porky ways of state lawmakers.
But if Perry really thinks he can ride this wave in South Carolina, that tactic hasn’t yet been evidenced yet. His first ad in the state is a retread of a bio spot from November that doesn’t even mention his government reform plan.
But it does mention something else Perry backers say plays well in South Carolina: his military background and Christianity. Unlike New Hampshire, where Molly Ball showed how hard it can be for a values candidate to make a connection, South Carolina is a land where mixing in some ol’ time religion into your stump speech is very much appreciated in a lot of places. In addition, the state is home to a lot of veterans and active-duty military. Perry is a vet himself, and can speak their language, too.
The combo went down very well for Perry in South Carolina in months past. In August, I spent a couple days following Perry around the state. He was so famous back then a guy literally stopped on his way to pick up his wife who was going into labor to have her talk to Perry on a cell phone.
So, Perry’s dialing up South Carolina voters again. And he’s betting the house that they’ll still enthusiastically pick up the call.