Perry Hanging On For S.C. Primary

The Republican presidential candidates face off tonight in a debate in South Carolina. Texas Governor Rick Perry will take part.

Perry did poorly in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Recent polls have given him less than 10 percent of the vote in South Carolina. Nevertheless, it’s the first southern state in the primary race. And Perry has spent a lot of time there.

Rice political scientist Mark Jones says Perry is hoping he will connect with the state’s social conservatives.  

“Perry right now sort of views South Carolina as his last chance. Even though it was doubtful, there was little hope, he decided to stick it out there in part because he at least back in September was the favorite in South Carolina, looking at the polls then.”

But Jones says that what social conservatives want now is a viable opponent to Mitt Romney.

Evangelicals gathered Saturday in Brenham to endorse a presidential candidate. They chose Rick Santorum.

“I think the Brenham event was sort of a slap in the face to Rick Perry. Here you are in Texas, in Brenham, where I’m pretty sure neither Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum has probably ever even been to Brenham. And Perry was not even really considered a viable contender in the vote that they conducted in Brenham.”

So what happens next?

Jones predicts Perry will drop out right after the South Carolina primary, either Saturday night or Sunday morning. And when he comes back to Texas, things will be different for him.

“The Rick Perry of today is much weaker and has much more diminished political capital than the Rick Perry of even six months ago. His standing with moderates as well as establishment Republicans has been eroded in the state. His image as a skilled and savvy campaigner has also been undermined.”

Jones predicts that Perry has lost any chance to run for governor again, but will still wield considerable influence during his three remaining years in office.