Perry vows a fight for social conservatives' votes

Posted Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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AUSTIN - Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Sunday that he is undaunted by his failure to win the backing of leading social conservatives and expressed confidence that he can still rally conservative voters in Saturday's South Carolina primary with his message of job creation and economic recovery.

Perry, who placed fifth in the Iowa caucuses and is struggling in the polls in South Carolina, sustained another setback over the weekend when dozens of conservative leaders meeting in Texas threw their support to former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum over Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

But Perry said in television interviews on Sunday that he will campaign vigorously for social conservatives' support in South Carolina. He also compared himself to Ronald Reagan, who won the South Carolina primary in 1980 and went on to secure the Republican nomination and the presidency.

"He was not the one that they wanted to pick," Perry told ABC's George Stephanopoulos, citing early concerns about Reagan's ability to win the 1980 general election. "But South Carolina citizens said, you know what, he is. So we'll wait and see Saturday what the people of South Carolina say."

He made a similar assessment in an interview with Candy Crowley on CNN's "State of the Union," saying he plans to talk "to a host of social conservatives" in the days before the primary.

"My record is pretty hard to argue with," he said.

Perry indicated he plans to stay in the race after South Carolina. He told Crowley that he plans to campaign in the Jan. 31 Florida primary, even if he finishes last in South Carolina. "That's our intention" he said.

Asked by Stephanopoulos if South Carolina has become his "Alamo," Perry responded: "Oh, I don't think so ...We're the most consistent fiscal conservative and social conservative in the race and that's our message both on the airwaves and out on the campaign trail."

Stephanopoulos later asked about Perry's "'plan going forward," adding, "If you don't come in first or a close second in South Carolina, is that's it for your campaign?"

"Well, we'll make that decision on Saturday," Perry said. "So, 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."

Perry was unapologetic about describing front-runner Mitt Romney's business activities as "vulture" capitalism, despite criticism from a number of leading Republicans, who warned that Democrats could exploit Perry's use of the term if Romney becomes the nominee.

Perry said the issue of job creation and Romney's record at Bain Capital is certain to come up in the general election campaign, telling Stephanopoulos that "it's better to be talking about it here in January in South Carolina than it is in September and October with the nominees."

Taliban incident

On another topic, Perry said that possible criminal charges against Marines shown urinating on dead Taliban fighters would be "over the top" although he said they should be reprimanded and appropriately punished for what he called a "dumb" mistake.

"When you're 18 or 19, you do dumb things. These kids made a mistake, there's not any doubt about it," Perry told Crowley.

But he said the Obama administration's possible pursuit of criminal charges shows "disdain" toward the U.S. military.

Dave Montgomery, 512-476-4294

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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