Gov. Nikki Haley (R), elected to her first term in 2010 after winning a GOP primary on the strength of considerable tea party support, might also be influential, should she choose to endorse in the race.
One Republican insider based in Columbia, the state capital, said the initial excitement over Perry is a credit to the governor’s charisma and perceived conservatism, where he’s from, and that he “walks like us and talks like us.” This insider likened the quick support for Perry to the initial support for Barbour, a Southern governor who “looks like one of us.”
But this Republican said Perry’s gubernatorial record could be vulnerable with South Carolinians, given his stances on immigration, gay marriage and an executive order that he signed mandating that sixth-grade girls get vaccinated against the human papilloma virus, which some studies have shown can cause cervical cancer. Social conservatives in Texas decried the move, arguing it might encourage sexual promiscuity, and the Legislature later overturned it.
Perry has since backed off his original position on the vaccination issue, conceding he should have worked with the Legislature. Perry has also distanced himself from comments that he made before launching his campaign in which he said that same-sex marriage should be a states’ rights issue. Perry’s staunch support for the 10th Amendment, which reserves powers not proscribed in the Constitution for the states, might make it difficult for the governor to attack Romney’s position on health care.
Romney is believed vulnerable in the GOP primary in many states because he orchestrated the enactment of a health care reform law in Massachusetts that includes an individual mandate to buy insurance, a plan that served as a model for President Barack Obama’s federal health care law.
It remains unclear where South Carolina’s tea party activists will fall, with Bachmann and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) remaining strong contenders for their votes, the Republican insider in South Carolina said.
“Some will jump immediately [to back Perry] because that’s just the nature of the beast,” the source said. “But others are going to want to see him around a little while — sort of like buying a car, they’re going to want to kick the tires and see what’s actually there.”
A top Republican operative who is also based in Columbia agreed, saying Romney might still finish on top — particularly if Bachmann, who would appear to be targeting the same voters as Perry, criticizes the Texas governor in a way that would diminish his early popularity. “Gov. Perry’s entry has changed the game in South Carolina. He’s the instant frontrunner,” the GOP operative said. “But I wouldn’t count out Gov. Romney.”