After a hot and heavy courtship by conservatives who pleaded with Texas Gov. Rick Perry to make a late entry into the presidential race, Perry is now watching his earliest supporters leave him at the altar days before the South Carolina primary.
On Monday, State Sen. Larry Grooms abandoned his earlier endorsement of Perry to go instead with Rick Santorum, the only man polling almost as low as Perry in South Carolina. In a statement, Grooms said, “It is apparent that Governor Perry cannot win and has no viable strategy in moving forward.”
A colleague of Grooms’ in the state Senate, Sen. Lee Bright, said Perry’s presidential ambitions in South Carolina died the day Grooms jumped ship.
“When you have somebody working for your campaign like Grooms who says you can’t win, that is the death knell for a candidate.”
Bright chalked Perry’s struggles in the campaign up to his poor debate performances and added that another boot-wearing Texas governor wasn’t selling well in the state. “People like Bush, but people don’t want another Bush. People are about Bushed out.” Bright has endorsed the other Texan in the race, Rep. Ron Paul.
Two days after Grooms called for Perry to get out of the race, Erick Erickson, the editor of the powerful conservative blog Red State, did the same. Erickson had introduced Perry in August when he kicked off his campaign at the Red State convention here in South Carolina. But six months and several hideous debate performances later, Erickson called for Perry to quit.
“Conservatives opposed to Mitt Romney will be legitimately able to blame Rick Perry for dragging down either Newt or Santorum’s one-way ticket to the nomination,” Erickson wrote today.
Rather than go down in disgrace in Saturday’s primaries, Erickson said, the governor could start his image rehab now by becoming a “kingmaker” in the GOP race—by clearing the way for either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum to consolidate the conservative vote and stop Mitt Romney.
Erickson was joined on the Dump Perry bandwagon later in the day when talk radio host Laura Ingraham also called on Perry to leave the race. “Rick Perry should drop out of this race.” she said on her radio show. “I mean, God bless him, but he’s not put in the time to kind of know anything about foreign policy and you can’t be president if you don’t know anything about foreign policy.”
Perry’s spokesman insisted Wednesday that the governor has no plans to leave the race. But it was hard to think Perry is in it to win it after his campaign canceled a Wednesday meet-and-greet at Bob Jones University, the epicenter of evangelical education in the country, and the equivalent of Santa’s workshop for GOP vote seekers in the state.
A young woman at the university said the Perry campaign had canceled the event at the last minute, and had not offered a time to reschedule it. “I think it’s kind of a done deal,” she said.
Without Bob Jones on his schedule, Perry moved around the conservative “Upstate” portion of South Carolina on Wednesday, but rather than holding rallies and large town halls like Romney, Gingrich, and Paul, the much smaller Perry team stuck to diner drop-ins and quietly walking down the main street of picture-perfect Greer, S.C. Perry spoke later at a pro-life forum, where he got a warm welcome, but far from the thunderous ovation that greeted Ron Paul, who was beamed in via satellite from Washington.
Even as Perry’s supporters dwindled, he still had a small band of true believers pulling for him in South Carolina, even if they were from out of state.
Colt Smith, 24, had come from Aquilla, Texas, to volunteer on Perry’s campaign and saw him at the pro-life forum. “He cares about us,” he said of Perry. “We’ve met him and spent time with his family. He loves his country.”
Other Perry backers were shocked to hear about calls for him to leave the race. “Don’t agree,” said Vikki Sciolaro, a Perry volunteer who had driven from Kansas to Greenville. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Why would he drop out?” asked a flabbergasted Rebecca Walker, a retired teacher from Fernandino Beach, Fla., who is staying with family locally to volunteer for Perry. “I am very disappointed, and I might not be reading Red State anymore.”
Unfortunately for Perry, his volunteers won’t be voting in Saturday’s primary, and those who say they will put Perry back in fifth place. With Perry, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul splitting the conservative vote, Romney is projected to win by double digits.