SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Five days after he expressed hesitancy about continuing in the presidential race, Texas Governor Rick Perry made his awaited return to South Carolina, sending a message to voters in the state - he's not a quitter.
"I've never quit a day in my life. I have never quit in the face of adversity, and I'm not just about to quit on the future of America. I am going to stay in this race and stay in this fight because our children in this country are worth the fight," Perry told a crowd of 125 South Carolinians at the Beacon Drive-In.
Perry rerouted his campaign to Austin, Texas, Wednesday, cancelling 10 events in South Carolina, after expressing a desire to reassess his place in the presidential race, but quickly made up his mind and decided to press on.
The Texas governor, who ordered a sweet tea and a Chili Cheese A Plenty, which the famed diner described as a "chili cheeseburger on a bun buried on a plate underneath piles of sweet onion rings and French fried potatoes," characterized the presidency as his "target," comparing it to his 16-year courtship of his wife, Anita, before she agreed to marry him.
"For 16 years I pursued her. Don't anybody get confused that I am not one of these guys that when I got a target in my sight, I don't give up," Perry said. "If you want an analogy on this presidential race that's a good one there. The target's in the sight and I'm not giving up. It's not going to take me 16 years to get it done, though. We're going to stay in here and make this thing happen."
Perry is battling with Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich for the social conservative vote in the Palmetto State, but he also has his eye on denting Mitt Romney's lead in the state.
"If you want to know how somebody's going to perform in the future, look to their past," Perry said. "As a matter of fact, Mitt said, 'If you want to know how I'm going to perform, look at my record,' and I have, Mitt."
"I don't like it," a woman in the audience said.
"I'm with you ma'am," Perry responded, drawing laughs from the audience.
As he greeted voters upon exiting the crowded diner, Perry was approached by 7-year-old Gracie Wood, who had seen him in Saturday night's debate and wrote him a letter of encouragement.
"Did you leave me an address so I could write you back? Smart girl. You're awesome. Thanks. Love you," Perry said as he reached in and hugged the blond-haired girl. "You're amazing," Gracie said. "Hope you win."
"Every chance you get help me out, OK? We'll get you a bumper sticker. I know you can't quite, you're not quite old enough to vote yet are you?" Perry asked.
"No sir," Gracie Wood responded. "But I'll ask my mommy to vote."
"Work your mother real good," Perry answered.