Rick Perry makes a campaign stop at Brock's department store in Pickens,… (David Goldman / Associated…)
Reporting from Lexington, S.C. —
The day after he finished last in New Hampshire's Republican presidential primary, Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched a packed day of events in South Carolina, where he has staked the future of his campaign.
Speaking to about 55 people in a side room at the Lizard’s Thicket restaurant in Lexington, just west of the state capital, Columbia, an animated Perry dismissed Iowa as “interesting” and New Hampshire as “a fine place,” but said: “South Carolina is who picks presidents.” Since 1980, every winner of the GOP primary in South Carolina has gone on to take the party’s presidential nomination.
Perry stressed his experience limiting the size of government and creating jobs in Texas, which he noted has the 13th-largest economy in the world. “I’m going to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can make it,” he promised, noting that the government even dictates what kind of light bulbs are sold.
He also returned to his persistent criticism of Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital, a private equity firm that the former Massachusetts governor says created jobs and his opponents say killed them. “I get it about job creation,” Perry said, after saying Bain Capital had eliminated 150 jobs in Gaffney, S.C. “I understand the difference between venture capital and vulture capitalism.”
He took issue with charges from Romney and others that he was attacking capitalism. “The idea that you come in and you destroy people's lives, the idea that you come in just to make a quick profit, tear these companies apart, I understand restructuring. I understand those types of things,” he said. “But the idea that we can’t criticize someone for these get-rich schemes is not appropriate from my perspective.”
Perry called the relationship between Wall Street and Washington corrupt, saying that as more is revealed about the bailout, “I think we’re going to find a rotten core.”
He spoke longest about his own record in Texas and his belief in small government. He took credit for a tax and regulatory structure that he said has brought jobs to the state.
Answering a question from a woman who said she had a doctorate in public health but cannot find work, he said, “There’s plenty of money out there. People are just afraid to risk their capital.”
He criticized President Obama for what he called a three-year experiment in Keynesian economics. “You’ve got to ask yourself, are you better off today than you were four trillion dollars ago?” he said.
He reiterated his proposal to eliminate the federal departments of Commerce, Education and Energy. “One size fits all may be great for gym socks, but it doesn’t work in 50 states,” he said.
Citing his record as a pilot in the Air Force in the 1970s and speaking just miles from South Carolina's sprawling Fort Jackson, Perry said that a revived economy was essential for the United States to be strong, militarily. “Today, our allies in the world are nervous and our enemies are emboldened,” he said.
The Lizard’s Thicket, a family-owned, Columbia-based chain, is a popular stop for candidates. It offers a menu of one meat and three vegetables for $7.49. (Catfish is $1 extra and gelatin is considered a vegetable.)
At one point, Perry demonstrated his familiarity with South Carolina in response to a comment from the audience that Clemson University’s color is orange.
David Pair, a 60-year-old manager for a regional trucking company in Lexington, stopped in to hear Perry, whom he said he was inclined to support. “He’s from the South, and Republican governors seem to do well,” he said. “Texas is a country all its own there. He’d done well, and they seem to like him.”
Wearing a University of South Carolina ring and drinking a tumbler of iced tea, he described himself as “a die-hard Republican.” “Everything that the Democratic Party stands for drives me the other way,” he said, describing the party as standing for taxes and social programs. “It just seems that there’s a program for everything that’s funded by my tax dollars.”
He advised Perry to lay off his criticisms of Romney’s record at Bain Capital, which has come under sustained assault in South Carolina from Perry and the other conservative candidates. “It’s part of the American system. He’s done well. I don’t think he’s done anything illegal or immoral,” he said.
Pair said he was not dismayed by Perry’s last-place showing in New Hampshire, explaining that he didn’t think voters there would pick a Southerner. “I just hope Perry does well here so it doesn’t end here,” he said.
Perry planned to stop at Doc’s Barbecue in Columbia for lunch, then head to Aiken for a strolling meet-and-greet and a town hall, ending up in West Columbia at Al’s Upstairs Restaurant.