AUSTIN, Texas – In a matter of 12 hours, Texas Gov. Rick Perry wavered from being all in to reassessing his campaign to finally settling on soldiering on in the Republican presidential nominating contest, seeing South Carolina as the opportunity to turn around his struggling campaign.
“The governor said what he said Tuesday night for a reason. He truly did want to assess the lay of the land regarding the Republican field, regarding South Carolina and regarding the organizational and financial situation of our campaign,” Ray Sullivan, communications director for the Perry campaign, said.
Between the 12 hours that Perry took the stage to announce he was returning to Texas to rethink his campaign after a fifth-place finish in Iowa and the moment he tweeted he would continue his campaign and head to South Carolina, Perry consulted with his family, political advisers, including Sullivan and senior adviser Joe Allbaugh, and staff on the ground in South Carolina.
Despite the belief held by many staffers that the Texas governor would call his presidential bid quits once he returned to his home state, Perry, apparently receiving strong pressure from his wife, Anita, decided to stay in the race. “He wants to soldier on and believes that his record and conservative message and status as the only nonestablishment Washington, outsider left in the field are good matches with the citizens of South Carolina,” Sullivan said.
But time was not on Perry’s side. There was worry that not acting in a speedy manner might cost him support and momentum heading into South Carolina, the state where Perry had kicked off his campaign and built a strong organization led by former South Carolina Republican Party chairman Katon Dawson.
“One of the reasons to act quickly was to keep our organization and our supporters in place in South Carolina. Uncertainty can lead people to look elsewhere or to join other organizations, and he did not want that,” said Sullivan.
Although Perry didn’t yet know that Rep. Michele Bachmann would drop out of the race when he spoke with her Tuesday night before his speech, her decision left Perry free to compete in a smaller field with one less person vying for support from the same conservative base.
Aides to Perry see his path forward as shaped by Republican voters’ unmet desire to find a suitable anti-Romney candidate. They believe Perry’s outsider credentials will resonate with South Carolina voters and beyond into other key states, while other candidates, such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, will struggle in the face of falling poll numbers and a lack of lack of organization, respectively.
“The governor being the non-Washington candidate, noncongressional conservative combined with a real and broad- based political and financial organization, he really is the only conservative who’s situated to run a long multi-state campaign,” said Sullivan.
Perry, who has not held a public event since Tuesday evening, canceled 11 events between Wednesday and Friday. Perry heads to New Hampshire Friday evening for two debates over the weekend, and flies down to South Carolina for his first event in Spartanburg Sunday afternoon.
But Perry will make his presence known in the Palmetto State before he even sets foot there.
An aide to Perry told ABC News that the campaign would begin running statewide TV ads on broadcast and cable in South Carolina on Friday. Make Us Great Again, a pro-Perry super PAC, has blanketed the state with television ads since November.
Perry will bring the one-on-one retail politicking he displayed during his Iowa bus tour to South Carolina over the course of the next two weeks. The campaign will likely downsize from the Faith, Jobs and Freedom bus it drove through Iowa for three weeks and opt instead for a suburban caravan as it travels through a smaller state, focusing most of its time in the northern area.
But is the Perry camp ready to set a goal of finishing No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 in South Carolina, as it did in Iowa, a goal it ultimately failed to meet? Sullivan would say only that the campaign was looking to “exceed expectations” come Jan. 21 and beyond.