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Rick Perry: The Tea Party's Candidate?

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Is Rick Perry the Tea Party’s last hope in the 2012 election? As he prepares for his Alamo moment in South Carolina, the longest serving governor in Texas history makes the case for limited government.

It’s a deliberate play for South Carolina’s once powerful Tea Party to come to his aid. During the 9AM MSNBC debate today with David Gregory, Rick Perry promised the Tea Party across the country that he would have their back against big spending Republicans. But will they have his?

Today, Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express promised on Breitbart.tv that the organization will endorse before January 21st.

Perry’s proposals of cutting the pay of Congress and prosecuting congressmen for insider trading have been popular among Tea Party supporters. Indeed, in November, Perry was accused of “pandering to the tea party” by none other than House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). The Texas Tea Party, however, withdrew their support of the governor for his support of sanctuary cities for illegal aliens. An October Washington Post/ABC poll confirms that his support was cratering among Tea Party activists, placing him just above Romney and Ron Paul. Perry is hoping that South Carolina is a bit more generous.

Only a few of the Republicans swept into power in South Carolina by the Tea Party have made endorsements. Tea Party darling Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed Mitt Romney and has been an active surrogate for the former Massachusetts governor as far afield as New Hampshire. Haley’s support in South Carolina, however, is cratering. A poll conducted by Winthrop University between Nov. 27 and Dec. 4 showed only 34.6 percent of those surveyed approved of Haley’s job performance, making her one of the least popular governors in the country.

Haley’s support for Romney may be pecuniary or payback. Romney’s “Free and Strong America” political action committee donated $36,000 to Haley’s campaign in 2010. More than 35 other Romney backers received PAC money from the former Massachusetts governor before making their endorsements. Perhaps they were merely returning the favor. Or perhaps their campaigns were paid for that favor early in the process.

Thus far, the very popular Tim Scott has declined to endorse anyone for president. Rep. Scott’s highly coveted endorsement is seen as something of a proxy for Senator Jim DeMint, the godfather of the Tea Party in South Carolina. In 2008, DeMint endorsed Mitt Romney, but in 2012, he has remained deliberately on the sidelines.

Of the federal legislators in South Carolina, only freshman congressman (and Tea Party favorite) Mick Mulvaney has endorsed, and he has endorsed Rick Perry. Mulvaney reportedly decided to support Perry after seeing his 20% flat tax proposal. “It’s very, very similar to what we’ve been talking about in terms of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative group within the House Republicans, and he went a little bit further than I think we’re going to go even. I was enthusiastic about somebody actually taking some bold steps,” Mulvaney told MSNBC. Perry also won the support of Bobby Harrell, South Carolina’s Speaker of the House.

South Carolina’s Tea Party groups hold their own convention in Myrtle Beach on Sunday, Jan. 15, and Monday, Jan. 16, the same day that the next — the 16th — of the presidential debates takes place.

Perry’s sure to be helped by his South Carolina advisors, which include former state GOP chairman Katon Dawson, who believes that Perry will play well with both evangelical and military voters who make up the Palmetto State’s Republican electorate. “Iowa picks corn, New Hampshire picks presidential campaign pockets, and South Carolina picks Republican presidents,” Dawson told reporters after Perry’s fifth place finish in Iowa.

Though there is no clear Tea Party candidate in South Carolina, Tea Party groups are pretty clearly opposed to Mitt Romney. Karen Martin, the head of the Spartanburg County, S.C., chapter and other Tea Party leaders, put it simply in an interview with National Public Radio:

There’s no Tea Partier that I talk to in the state or nationally that would want to promote Romney. Other than the people that have come out publicly and endorsed Mitt Romney and the people left over from his 2008 campaign, I do not personally know anyone that does not despise Mitt Romney and doesn’t hate the idea of him being our nominee.

Governor Perry will be sure to keep proclaiming his conservative bona fides, especially on the Tenth Amendment, which is popular among Tea Partiers. To capitalize on that vote, Perry would do well to throw his backing to South Carolina’s fight against the Justice Department over voter fraud. He would also do well to speak out against President Obama’s unconstitutional recess bids, especially those recess bids governing the National Labor Relations Board, which is at war with Boeing over relocating their plant to a right-to-work state.


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