South Carolina was supposed to be a sure thing for Rick Perry: A Republican, Southern, evangelical governor with a big smile and an even bigger lead in the polls.
Then, September and October happened. Perry stumbled through five nationally televised debates during which he likened Social Security to a Ponzi scheme, attempted to defend his support of a Texas vaccination program to protect young girls from a sexually transmitted disease and caught heat for a Texas bill he signed into law, offering in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.
Perry returns to South Carolina today after a nearly two-month absence to find his double-digit lead in August has vanished. Last week, just 9 percent of likely S.C. Republican primary voters said they would vote for him, according to an NBC/Marist poll released last week.
He’s looking to rebound in the early-voting state that holds the first-in-the South primary Jan. 21 and has chosen an Upstate plastics manufacturer as the backdrop for a speech today, outlining his jobs plan.
Katon Dawson, who is advising Perry’s S.C. campaign, said Perry’s team does not pay attention to polls because “if people lived and died by polls, John McCain would not have been the nominee and Ronald Reagan would not have been the nominee.” But, he said, one of the purposes of Perry’s S.C. visit is to boost his numbers.
“This is an early-primary state and it’s very important,” Dawson said. “Any candidate coming here is trying to boost their numbers — and supporters and everything else.”
Most major presidential candidates see their numbers surge shortly after they announce, followed by some decline as the media and rival candidates dive into their past and policies. But for Perry, the decline has felt like a nosedive.
In August, one week after announcing his candidacy in Charleston, Perry stopped by a Florence restaurant that held 400 people. More than 600 showed up, many turned away at the door.
One of them was Bill Philipp, a retired food-service director. He arrived late and just made it in, but the dining room was so full he did not get to eat.
“I was real excited,” he said. “He was fresh on the scene. He had some good results in Texas getting people back to work. I thought he would be pretty good.”
Philipp was ready to vote for Perry right there in the restaurant. But after watching Perry for two months, Philipp said he is “really confused” on which candidate to support.
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