- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2012

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — This is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, enemy of Washington.

The Obama administration is suing South Carolina over its state immigration law, and has blocked the state’s new voter-identification requirement? “Under my administration, you will not see a Department of Justice coming in and suing a state for issues that are that state’s sovereign right,” Mr. Perry assured diners at Dukes, a barbecue counter in Orangeburg.

The National Labor Relations Board? “I’d probably just do away with it,” he said at a voter forum Saturday, sponsored by Fox News’ “Huckabee” program, named for its host, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

No state is more under siege by the federal government than South Carolina, and Mr. Perry is arguably the Republican presidential field’s best advocate for states’ rights.

Yet he continues to struggle for traction among voters here, just as he did in Iowa. He didn’t even bother to compete in New Hampshire, going instead straight to South Carolina, where he had the state virtually to himself for a week. Still, he hasn’t managed yet to swing the polling needle.

South Carolina should have been tailor-made for Mr. Perry, who checks off many of the items most important to conservative primary voters here: He served in the military, he’s governor of a fellow Southern state, and he’s an evangelical Christian.

In fact, he’s the only prominent evangelical Christian left in the field otherwise populated by two Catholics, two Mormons and Rep. Ron Paul, who rarely talks about his religious beliefs.

And he ticks off a list of Medal of Honor winners and other veterans who are backing his campaign, including retired Marine Capt. Dan Moran, who is recovering from 30 surgeries and third-degree burns over half of his body but who told Mr. Perry he cannot leave the race.

“He said, ‘Sir, I didn’t get these scars on my face for us to quit,’ ” Mr. Perry recalled. “He said, ‘I’m not going to quit on this country, and you’re not going to quit on this campaign.’ We’re going to go to South Carolina, plead with the people of South Carolina.”

But while the other candidates are developing their campaign narrative, Mr. Perry still finds himself having to answer the same questions that dogged him from the very start of his campaign.

At Dukes, Bill Lindsay, a 70-year-old voter, hit Mr. Perry with two of them.

He said he’d gotten a mailer from Mr. Paul’s campaign that pointed out Mr. Perry’s support for then-Sen. Al Gore in the Democratic primary in 1988 — Mr. Perry was a Democrat at the time, but says he voted for George H.W. Bush in the general election, And Mr. Lindsay also accused Mr. Perry of having given taxpayer money to illegal immigrants.

Mr. Perry flatly denied the immigration charge.

“I don’t understand where that comes from. I’ve been fighting the battle on the border with Mexico and Texas for 11 years,” he said.

The only problem is that Mr. Perry did, in fact, sign a bill to allow illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities in Texas. It was a major issue in the debates during the fall, and was credited with being one of the reasons his poll numbers slipped so dramatically.

Mr. Lindsay told The Washington Times afterward that it was clear to him Mr. Perry was ducking the question. Still, Mr. Lindsay said only two people check off the key issues for him, and said the Texas governor is likely to get his vote.

“I’m a Southerner. I’m looking for a man who wore the uniform of the United States, Rick Perry and Ron Paul. Rick Perry — I’ll probably end up voting for him,” he said. “I like Ron Paul, and I like what he stands for, but he’s 75 years old. Why on Earth would a man 75 years old want to be president?” Mr. Paul is actually 76.

There was some worry Mr. Perry wouldn’t even make it onto the stage for Thursday’s debate, sponsored by CNN and the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Invitations were only being extended to candidates who were in the top four spots in Iowa or New Hampshire, or averaged at least 7 percent in three polls nationally or in South Carolina.

Mr. Perry didn’t crack the top four in Iowa or New Hampshire, and he’s polling at just 5 percent or 6 percent in South Carolina. But he managed to collect exactly 7 percent support in three national polls, barely earning him a spot.

Asked on ABC’s “This Week” program Sunday whether he would drop out if he’s not first or second in South Carolina, Mr. Perry left that option open.

“Well, we’ll make that decision on Saturday,” he said. “It’s our intention to win South Carolina and go forward from there. But to try to plan out your campaign months in advance, I think, is a little bit of a stretch.”

Speaking on CNN’s “The Situation Room,” though, he said it was his “intention” to go campaign in Florida, even if he placed last in South Carolina.

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