MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - With his wife sitting at his side this morning, Texas Gov. Rick Perry offered a candid glimpse into a relationship that dates back to their childhood in West Texas, saying she offers the love and friendship to lift him through the presidential race.
"If I just had to walk away from all this, and if she was walking with me, it'd all be OK," he said alongside Anita Perry at the Café Moms forum.
The Perry couple met as children at a piano recital and began dating while in high school, engaging in a 16-year courtship before they married 29 years ago. The Texas governor, who is polling at the bottom of the Republican pack in South Carolina, shared the support and strength his wife has provided him as he has endured the media scrutiny of every misstep along the campaign.
"When I foul up, which I do on a more regular basis than I would like to admit, she's always there to share with me how I could have done it different and if I had asked her first it wouldn't have happened," Perry, 61, joked.
"I've almost stopped reading the Internet or watching the news. You know you can't do that," Anita Perry, 59, said. "It's really really unfair because you know he's smart, intelligent, he's a leader. He's set this economy for you know, this climate in Texas to create jobs, so I'm really proud of him. We put ourselves out there, as every candidate does and you expect to be you know every level of being scrutinized, so I've dealt, and right now it's particularly hard the closer that we get to Saturday."
The duo revealed how faith and prayer has carried them through the past five months of the presidential race. "I don't think you can get through this without faith," Anita Perry said. "The longer that we're in it, the more dependent upon that faith and prayer that I've become."
Gov. Perry said, "I tell people, you know God didn't say, 'I want you running', but there were - I told people there were certainly things that I tested God on before I made the decision. He sure didn't tell me I was going to win, but I know I'm doing God's will for my life.
"My life and particularly my spiritual life has been substantially strengthened. I've matured as a Christian in the last six months as I've gone through this process."
The couple have a daughter, Sydney, and son, Griffin, with whom the two eagerly joked about having grandchildren with his wife soon.
Perry, who has teared up in the past when speaking of the sacrifices made by veterans, grew emotional as he shared his intense appreciation for the country and the symbolism of the U.S. flag and the Pledge of Allegiance.
"When that flag goes up at a ball game, when we see the words, they're really special. They're a powerful thing," Perry said. "When I'm standing on that stage getting ready to debate, I'm standing at attention, and I'm standing with my hand over my heart to reflect my belief what a great and incredible country we live in, and those symbols of this country should never be used in any other way than to hold up America for the great freedoms and the hope for this world that it reflects."
The Texas governor was asked to contrast himself with front-runner Mitt Romney and offered his outsider status and commitment to values as examples of the difference between the two. Perry challenged Romney to release his tax returns, suggesting that it's better to bring these issues to the surface now rather than later on in the general election.
"Anita and I put out our taxes every year since back in the '80s, and every candidate up there, they should put their taxes out, including Mitt," Perry said. "You know, September and October is not the time for us to be finding out that, oops, there's something out there that is a problem. We need to know it now."
Perry had kind words for his friend and former competitor Jon Huntsman, who formally dropped out of the race today.
"We love the Huntsman girls. Our kids get along well. Mary Kaye and Anita are best friends. Jon's a dear friend, too. We've had a wonderful time getting to know the candidates and some of them we really didn't know very well.
"But the Huntsmans we've known for a long time. They will continue to be great good friends. This process is an interesting one, you get a little bit of intramural skirmish-wise but we love them and they're a great family. … They're just a beautiful wonderful, fun family."