Perry Drops Out, Endorses Gingrich
New Hampshire supporters of both Perry and Gingrich weigh in.
Just two days shy of the South Carolina Primary, Rick Perry has announced he's dropping out of the GOP race, and will endorse Newt Gingrich.
In his remarks today, Perry characterized Gingrich as a "conservative visionary" who can "transform our country."
"We have had our differences, which campaigns inevitably bring out. And Newt is not perfect, but who among us is?" Perry said. "I have no question Newt Gingrich has the heart of a conservative reformer, the ability to rally and captivate the conservative movement and the courage to tell the Washington interests to take a hike if it's what is best for the country."
While Perry's exit came as no surprise to political observers, including UNH political science professor Dante Scala, it has deflated several of Perry's local supporters, including State Reps. Dick Hinch of Merrimack and Pete Silva of Nashua.
Hinch, a strong Perry supporter, said seeing Perry's campaign unravel has been difficult.
And while he's not surprised at the news, either, he's disappointed.
"I'm terribly disappointed, for both Governor Perry and the entire country. He's just a superb individual who would've made a superb president," Hinch said.
"Having said that, his candidacy started to crash and burn months ago, and I fault his most senior advisors for what I'd called mismanagement of his campaign," Hinch said. "They should have been jettisoned long ago."
Perry's poor showing in early debates should not have been a deal breaker, Hinch said.
"That's on his advisors. They should've prepped him appropriately, and worked and worked and worked with him, to make sure he was on top of his game and delivering his message appropriately. Governor Perry has some great ideas for bringing the economy forward, and bringing the sense of togetherness of the American people forward. But his messages got lost in the crash-and-burn from the debate performances. He never really recovered from that," Hinch said.
As for whether Hinch will join Perry in supporting Gingrich, it's too soon to tell, Hinch said.
"We still have several candidates standing, any one of them who will do a fine job – Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum – all are great candidates," Hinch said.
Loyal Perry backer, state Rep. Pete Silva, R-Nashua, said Perry's exit was inevitable, and his endorsement, sensible.
"Rick Perry's never wavered from being a true conservative. These other phonies, who were never true conservatives, have lost all credibility with me. Frankly, I'd have been shocked if Perry had supported anyone else. He knows the best shot to beat Obama is Newt," Perry said.
Silva said he sat across the table from Perry during a "farewell to NH" brunch following the New Hampshire Primary. He told Perry he'd be traveling to Texas this week for a business convention, and hoped to not see him there.
"We had a candid conversation and I told him I really hoped I wouldn't see him here. He laughed and said he hoped not, either. Now that I'm heading to Texas, I wonder if he'll be here, or stay on in South Carolina to help Newt?," Silva said.
"My bottom line is, if someone called me and needed me to do something for Newt, I'd do it. I'm pleased, if that's who Perry is supporting, to do what I can. And the other thing I would say is that I would have been shocked – and disappointed – if he'd supported Romney," Silva said.
Jack Kimball, former chairman of the state GOP and former passenger on the Cain Train, switched his support, from Cain to Gingrich, following Cain's exit from the campaign and resulting endoresement of Gingrich.
He said Perry's decision, and support of Gingrich, are "huge" for the looming South Carolina Primary.
"We now know Newt has closed the gap with Romney, so this could be very important. If a vast number of Perry supporters – even if it's only 5 to 6 percent – swing to Newt, it could be the difference. It's huge. It's a very big deal," Kimball said.
Strategically, there was really no other way for Perry to exit the race, said Kimball.
"I think the other huge factor is going to be what happens to Santorum's campaign from here. I don't think Ron Paul will get out no matter what happens in South Carolina. On the other hand, if the Santorum campaign takes a good hard look at what's happened with the votes there, I wouldn't be surprise if he exits soon after," Kimball said.
"It's not a surprise that Perry left. He was monitoring the polls and realized that most conservatives were splitting their votes. Perry looked at this and said, 'What the best effect I can have on this race?' Then he looked at Newt and and at Rick Santorum, and while Santorum is a good man, he hasn't climbed into the fray, so Perry realized the biggest positive difference he could have is to back Newt," Kimball said.
And should Romney prevail, would Kimball have trouble supporting him?
"No problem, whatsoever. Because the alternative is unacceptable to me, and to most everyone I know," Kimball said.
Scala's observations are a bit more objective.
He believes Gingrich will get a little bump from the endorsement, but ultimately Perry's departure will be a boost for all four remaining candidates, who should be thanking Perry for the gift of more airtime during tonight's televised debate.
"Certainly winning South Carolina is very important for Gingrich, to slow down Mitt Romney, so Perry's endorsement might help a little with that. But it's clear that an endorsement never automatically transfers supporters from one candidate to another. Still, it strengthens the idea that it's a two-man race," Scala said.
"It hurts Santorum, but clearly it would have been difficult for Perry to make a comeback in South Carolina after the disaster that's unfolded in the last few months for his campaign," Scala said.
Scala said the peripheral issues dogging each candidate along the Primary campaign trail do add some weight to how things will play out.
For instance, Romney needs to address, sooner than later, the question of when he will release his past tax returns; but Sarah Palin's comments yesterday, that she'd support Gingrich in South Carolina, if only to see the vetting process continue, means little to nothing.
"Palin just doesn't matter anymore, in Republican circles or national politics," Scala said.
And Ron Paul likely isn't going anywhere.
"He's got enough money to keep going, and I believe he will, especially if he can do relatively well in South Carolina," Scala said.
Having just four candidates left standing on tonight's debate stage will help sharpen the focus on Romney, Scala said.
"Santorum will try to make a play tonight. Ron Paul's been having his problems in South Carolina, but Perry dropping out at this moment heightens not only the importance of tonight's debate, but also of the impact of the interview with Gingrich's second wife, following the debate. Certainly it will help make the decision clearer for South Carolina voters," Scala said.
Scala was referring to an interview with Marianne Gingrich that's scheduled to air on ABC's "Nightline" tonight, following the debate.
One looming problem for Gingrich is whether his campaign has enough solid infrastructure, and money, to outlast Romney.
"Money's definitely an issue going forward for Gingrich. Florida is an expensive place to compete, and after that, there's a month where not much happens. Gingrich has to figure out how to remain competitive," Scala said.
"Romney's organization is much better built for a long slog than Gingrich's. For Gingrich, a win in South Carolina gets him momentum and a victory, finally, and that could lead to money or endorsements, but those are hard to come by for Gingrich, even when he's riding high in the polls," Scala said.
Beyond that, whether Perry's exodus will have any real effect on the outcome of Saturday's South Carolina Primary is debatable.
"Romney wasn't on his A game during the first South Carolina Debate. Gingrich was better. Gingrich is always best when he's not being challenged himself, and Romney is never especially comfortable with delivering an attack. In that way, Romney's lived a charmed life this past year," Scala said.
Historically in this campaign, it seems that whenever Gingrich starts gaining momentum, he starts to fail, Scala said.
"I think the real question becomes, 'Can Gingrich handle this?' Tonight's debate is part of it, but remember, it wasn't the debates that wore him down in Iowa; it was the political ads. No matter what, the stakes are high for both Romney and Gingrich. It's going to be a big night for both of them," Scala said.
"If Gingrich wins, this goes on for a while longer – at least until Super Tuesday. Even with all the problems Romney's had this week, if he wins South Carolina, he's a step closer to winning the nomination."