- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

PICKENS, S.C. (AP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry is pouring on the down-home charm as he seeks a campaign revival in South Carolina, betting that geographic kinship will pay off now that the Republican presidential race is finally shifting into his comfort zone.

Mr. Perry has settled in for two solid weeks of campaigning ahead of the Jan. 21 primary in a state that’s critical for him after he suffered a disastrous finish in Iowa and all but skipped New Hampshire.

In the past few days, Mr. Perry has made a point of chowing down on grits, inspecting mounted animals like the kind he’s shot back home, showing off his custom cowboy boots and letting his drawl hang out. His message: I’m one of you.

Mr. Perry left his son-of-the-South calling card everywhere he went one day this week as he and his wife, Anita, ducked into shops along a classic Main Street.

“Honey, what does this remind you of?” Mr. Perry asked as they stood in a clothing store that sells flannel shirts and cowboy boots and has big-game trophies on the walls.

“Home,” she answered.

A few doors down, the couple impressed patrons at a barbecue joint by recognizing okra, a Southern specialty, on their plates.

In town after town, Mr. Perry eagerly shares that he’s from tiny Paint Creek, a cotton farming outpost his dad referred to as “the big empty.” The casual “yes, ma’am” and the stretched “a” in “South Carolinaah” sound perfectly natural as he greets possible voters. He also draws a common bond between Texas and South Carolina, whose citizen-soldiers fought to help Texas gain its independence from Mexico in the 1830s.

“There wouldn’t be a Texas without South Carolina,” he says.

Mr. Perry’s challenge is steep: He placed a distant fifth in Iowa’s leadoff caucuses and didn’t even bother to put up a fight in New Hampshire, where he finished last. He needs his fortunes to turn around dramatically if he has any hope of becoming the first candidate in modern nomination history to prevail in South Carolina after not winning either of the two initial contests.

Mr. Perry offered a positive outlook on the two early losses, insisting that the race for a conservative alternative to Mr. Romney remains wide open.

Just a few months ago, South Carolina looked like somewhat of a lock for this Republican candidate. He used the state to formally launch his campaign in August. His military service, states’ rights message and religious conservatism seemed tailor-made for the state.

In a 60-second TV ad released Wednesday, Mr. Perry stresses his time as an Air Force pilot in the 1970s. The ad features Medal of Honor winners attesting to his character and promoting him as a capable commander in chief.

And Mr. Perry secured key backers quickly, including former state GOP Chairman Katon Dawson and state House Speaker Bobby Harrell.

“He was incredibly popular. He was like a rock star,” said Barry Wynn, a GOP luminary and mega-donor in South Carolina who backs Mr. Perry.

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