DES MOINES, Iowa — After sending signals that he might drop out of the Republican presidential contest after a poor showing in Iowa, Texas Gov. Rick Perry “reassessed” his political future during a morning run Wednesday and vowed to plunge into the next round of primaries, in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“I’m excited. It’s going to be fun,” Perry said as he left his hotel to return to Austin. “And all our friends in New Hampshire and South Carolina, get ready. Here we come.”
Perry’s bring-it-on demeanor contrasted with his appearance before supporters Tuesday night after a fifth-place showing with only 10 percent of the vote in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.
“I’ve decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight’s caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race,” a deflated Perry said then.
But 12 hours later, Perry surprised even members of his campaign entourage with a 10:14 a.m. CST Twitter post that left no doubts about his intention to stay in the race.
“And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State,” Perry tweeted, “Here we come South Carolina!!!
Asked about his statement Tuesday night about reassessing his candidacy, Perry responded: “I reassessed. We’re headed to New Hampshire and then to South Carolina.” He said he “was out on the trail” running “when it kind of came to me.”
The Texas governor’s “path forward” could be strewn with obstacles, as he's far behind in polls in New Hampshire, which votes next Tuesday, and South Carolina, which goes to the polls Jan. 21. But supporters and outside analysts alike said Perry’s about-face made sense.
“South Carolina is not going to let Iowa pick the nominee,” said Katon Dawson, Perry’s South Carolina senior adviser and a former state GOP chairman. Dawson said he was “up all night” talking to the Perry camp, urging the Texas governor to continue the campaign.
“This fight’s not done yet,” said Dawson, who fielded hundreds of calls from South Carolina Perry supporters.
Dawson’s favorite line: “Iowa picks corn; New Hampshire picks campaigns’ pockets and South Carolina picks Republican presidents.” Every GOP presidential nominee since 1980 has won the South Carolina primary.
Outside analysts saw Perry’s logic, too.
“This is Perry's one and only presidential campaign. If he makes a 'last stand' in South Carolina, he still has a chance, albeit slim,” said Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “If he drops out, his White House dreams are irrevocably ended.
“Perry has the money, he's a fellow Southerner. Romney MAY have problems in South Carolina, (Rick) Santorum doesn't have the money to compete, so why not? What does Perry have to lose that he hasn't already lost?”
Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a center-left Washington research center, said Perry’s decision “is probably good news for Mitt Romney. Think of all the conservatives in the race who will divide the vote.”
GOP political consultant Tom Edmonds said, “Nobody has it sewn up yet. If he has the money, he still has a shot. People can stumble. Things can change. You can’t win if you’re not a player.”
Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas-Austin presidential scholar, said the decision was “probably a better career move than going home and grumping” and could position Perry for a vice presidential spot or an appointment in a GOP administration.
Perry, Texas’ longest-serving governor, entered the presidential race in August with high expectations. He quickly soared into the lead before losing steam after poor debate performances and other setbacks.
He'd hoped to re-energize his candidacy with a third-place showing in Iowa but fell far short of that goal. The results could endanger his ability to raise money as potential donors decide whom to back.
But Perry said he was confident that he could win voters by highlighting his “huge differences” with the other candidates and continuing to portray himself as a true conservative and an anti-Washington “outsider.”
“These guys are all insiders that spent years and years in Washington, D.C.,” Perry said of his rivals. “They’re the reason that this country is broken. ... And I think Americans are looking for that alternative, and looking for that choice, and I’m it.”
(Montgomery is Austin bureau chief for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Recio reported from Washington.)
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