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Amid Signs of Defeat, Perry is Undeterred

Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune
Rick Perry opens his wallet to buy some coffee in a downtown Greer, S.C. general store during a campaign walk on January 18, 2012.

Tiny crowds. Calls for surrender. Defections.

The signs of defeat are everywhere, but Gov.Rick Perry is still campaigning as if he had a fighting chance to win the crucial South Carolina primary and keep his presidential ambitions alive.

Never mind that editor Eric Erickson — who less than a month ago described Perry as one of the best alternatives to front-runner Mitt Romney — has added his voice to a growing chorus of conservatives who think Perry is toast.

Or that prominent Perry supporter John Stemberger, a conservative leader in Florida, dropped Perry this week in favor of Rick Santorum.

Or that Santorum delivered a stunning slap to Perry in his own state by picking up the endorsement of top evangelical leaders.

Or that Perry is in last place in the latest polls.

Never mind all that.

“He’s in it to win it,” said a defiant Mark Miner, Perry’s longtime spokesman, speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon at Perry’s hotel in Greenville, S.C., where plans for a victory celebration are taking on a funereal quality.

Miner also shot back at Erickson, who has called for Perry to step down so that another conservative — namely former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich — will have a viable shot at taking down Romney.

Miner said it’s the voters who will decide Perry’s fate, not some “pundit behind a computer.”

At this point, the voters appear to be on the collective verge of concluding precisely what Erickson has: that Perry is not anywhere close to the electoral upset that his advisers — at least a week ago — thought might be possible in the first southern primary.

“In all honesty, I don’t think he will win,” said Dave Rudolph, a clock repairman who saw Perry on Tuesday at a poorly attended event in Murrells Inlet. “It just seems like Rick Perry doesn’t have enough pictures and messages out there. Mitt Romney is just everywhere.”

Perry has dropped a few subtle hints in recent days that he knows there may be a future that doesn’t include his swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol next year. In an unusually candid and sometimes emotional interview with GOP pollster Frank Luntz on Monday, Perry talked about what would happen if he had to “walk away from all this.”

He also seemed to acknowledge a seemingly inevitable Romney victory when he said voters should have the chance to look at Romney’s tax returns now instead of September — when the nomination will already be sewn up.

But drop out before the votes are cast? For a candidate who has never lost an election, it is a foreign concept.

So for now, the upper lip is stiff. The jaw is locked. The motorcade keeps moving.

The night before last, it rolled into Greenville. Today, it’s in Charleston, where it all began with the governor’s red-meat announcement speech five months ago, and where Perry will once again face his rivals — perhaps for the last time — in a nationally televised debate.

Perry will be in Greenville again Saturday on election night, when Erickson and other pundits are predicting the Texas governor’s presidential ambitions will finally unravel.

Until then, don’t expect him to give up. Because that, as adviser Ray Sullivan put it in a one-word email, would be “nuts.”

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