INDIAN LAND — While New Hampshire cast its votes Tuesday, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry immersed himself in South Carolina voters – shaking hands at a breakfast meet-and-greet in Rock Hill and dishing out harsh criticism of front-runner Mitt Romney for lunch in Indian Land.
The Texas governor said investment firms such as Bain Capital, co-founded by Romney, are “just like vultures, waiting for a company to get sick so they can sweep in, eat the carcass ... and leave the skeleton.”
Perry told the crowd of about 200 at Sun City Carolina Lakes in Indian Land that his remarks were directed at Romney, citing two South Carolina companies Bain invested in and later closed – profiting from putting people out of work.
The two companies were Holson Burns Group in Gaffney, which made photo albums, and GS Industries in Georgetown, a steelmaker.
About 150 people lost their jobs in the Gaffney closure in 1992. Perry said Bain Capital made a $65 million profit in closing GS Industries. Other sources estimate the firm profit was about $58 million.
“Rather than restructuring, they made a quick profit,” Perry said. “The company that did that was Bain Capital, and Romney was in charge.”
Perry’s remark came in response to a question about how to bring manufacturing jobs back to America.
Earlier Tuesday morning, Perry campaigned at Kinch’s restaurant in downtown Rock Hill, where he was greeted by a packed house eager to see him and hear him speak.
At the local diner, Perry stumped confidently, making jokes and appearing in his element. He moved comfortably from discussions of what policies he would push as president to anecdotes about growing up in small-town Paint Creek, Texas, where his high school civics teacher was also his principal and a bus driver.
“He does well in intimate groups like this, and the passion ... speaking from his heart,” said Glenn McCall, chairman of the York County Republican Party. “For him, it’s like a statewide race, a gubernatorial race.”
That’s the way all the candidates should treat it, McCall said, adding that many voters are still undecided because they haven’t had a chance to meet the candidates face-to-face.
“It’s going to be a sprint to the end,” he said. “Whoever has that endurance after all these meet-and-greet and these town halls, I think they’ll be rewarded.”
Perry seemed to have no lack of energy.
In response to a question about the federal Department of Education, he poked fun at himself for a much-publicized gaffe.
“That was one of the departments I remembered,” he said, to bellowing laughter from the crowd.
In a November presidential debate, Perry drew a blank while trying to name a third agency – in addition to Education and Commerce – he would eliminate if elected president. He later identified the third agency as the Department of Energy.
Perry painted himself as a Washington “outsider,” frequently jabbing “bureaucrats” and repeating how he wants to make the nation’s capital “inconsequential” in the lives of Americans.
His tone softened when he appealed to South Carolina’s history of developing “warriors and heroes,” citing two men born in Saluda County who died while fighting for Texas’ independence from Mexico at the Alamo.
“The idea that this federal government is after you is a war,” he said, noting the U.S. Justice Department’s recent challenges to South Carolina’s voter ID and immigration laws.
He asked the audience to send him – “an outsider” – to Washing-ton.
Despite his warm welcome in Rock Hill, Perry has been polling near the bottom in statewide polls – leading only former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman – according to calculations by Real Clear Politics.
Shaking hands with as many undecided voters as possible will be a good strategy for any Republican looking to capture the support needed heading into the Jan. 21South Carolina primary, McCall said.
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