Although her husband has served as Texas governor for the past 10 years, Anita Perry has largely stayed out of the political spotlight.
But that changed after Rick Perry announced his presidential bid back in August.
Indeed, her trip last week to South Carolina -- which took her to eight stops in two days -- showed the Texas first lady in several different lights. As a political spouse dealing with the slings and arrows of a national race. As an outspoken surrogate for her husband. And as a woman able to show the softer side of a candidate embroiled in a fierce nomination fight.
The trip was a chance for South Carolina voters to get face time with a member of the Perry family, given that her husband hasn’t been to the state in over a month. And -- probably not by mistake -- all of her public stops were in the Upstate region, home to a majority of the state’s large evangelical population.
Faith takes center stage
At her first stop, Anita Perry had breakfast with professors at North Greenville University, a Southern Baptist school tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The university’s president, Jimmy Epting, encouraged her to address the small group, although Perry later said she had not planned on making remarks.
“I just want you to feel comfortable talking about the Lord here, as well as tell us all about your husband and tell us why we should be voting for him,” Epting said before offering the podium to Perry.
Her impromptu remarks had a heavy dose of religion –- an issue that received more attention in the campaign after a Perry supporter called Mormonism a cult.
“We are being brutalized by our opponents, and our own party. So much of that is, I think they look at him, because of his faith,” she continued.
She also was overcome with emotion when talking about her grandfather, the deacon in a church who, she said, made sure she went to Sunday school every week. Anita Perry had to pause for several seconds in the middle of her story.
“My grandfather still speaks to me today,” she said, smoothing her cardigan to signal her regained composure.
Talking about her emotional moment later in an interview with NBC News, Perry said, “I've not told that story out on the campaign trail before. But we were talking about faith, and Rick and I are very sincere about our faith and our belief in family.
“And I didn’t mean to say that this morning. It just came to me, and it’s a true story,” she continued.
Sticking to the script
Video of Anita Perry’s remarks at North Greenville quickly spread around the Internet -– something the Perry South Carolina team noted throughout the day with a combination of trepidation (over the reaction to her words) and satisfaction (that the trip was getting so much exposure).
She made few off-the-cuff remarks the rest of the trip, sticking largely to her prepared speech, which she carried in a large binder with her name embossed in silver lettering.
She also dialed back her statement that the campaign was being “brutalized.” In the NBC interview, Perry said that criticism from other candidates is “the nature of the beast.”
“I can certainly understand it, if I’d been in the race longer, it would be uncomfortable for someone to come in and take over that lead,” she said. (At the time of the interview, Perry had come in third in the national NBC/WSJ poll, behind Herman Cain and Mitt Romney).
Handlers were also never far from Mrs. Perry’s side, making sure she stayed on message.
During the interview, Perry discussed her husband’s position on illegal immigration, an issue over which he’s received conservative criticismtaken because he supports allowing the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition to attend state colleges.
She began by expressing empathy for immigrants who are fleeing torture or abuse. “So many of them came for a better opportunity and that’s what America is about."
But the Perry campaign’s South Carolina chairman, Katon Dawson, was quick to interject.
“In no means has Gov. Perry done anything but be one of the firmest, and most staunch supporters of securing our border and against illegal immigration,” he said, explaining that Mrs. Perry was referring to the tuition issue when she talked about giving illegal immigrants a better opportunity.
An outspoken surrogate
Anita Perry’s prepared remarks pulled no punches when it came to her husband’s opponents.
“He doesn't need a 9-9-9 plan. He doesn't need a 59-point plan!” she said, taking digs, at Herman Cain and Mitt Romney’s jobs proposals while speaking at Cribbs Kitchen in Spartanburg.
Perry also used some of the same one-liners favored by her husband. When asked, at a town hall meeting in Prosperity about his 2nd Amendment beliefs, she responded, “He believes in gun control. You should use both hands.”
At a stop Friday at Dyer’s diner in Pendleton, Perry came under more scrutiny when she blamed her son’s leaving his banking job on new Securities and Exchange Commission rules barring financial advisers from campaigning for candidates if the adviser’s firm has business interests with the candidate’s state.
But while she took flak for that remark, the man to whom she was speaking, David von Schmittou, said he appreciated her comments.
“I was like, whoa. It has touched a lot of people,” he said, referring to the high unemployment rate.
Nurse, dog lover, city girl
While her trip to South Carolina had overtly political stops, she was also there to introduce herself to voters. The holder of a masters’ degree in nursing, Anita Perry visited with nursing students at Clemson University, Bob Jones University, and Greenville Memorial Hospital.
At Bob Jones University, Perry’s eyes lit up as she told students that getting her degree in nursing was “one of the best decisions I ever made in my life -- other than marrying my husband.”
Perry also seemed to share her husband’s love of dogs. As she stopped at a well-known Republican family’s home between events, she became excited when she saw two dogs in the backyard, and played with them before going inside.
And while visiting Greenville Hospital, she stopped to ask a receptionist the name of her dog, whose picture was on her desk.
“What’s your puppy’s name?” she asked, to which the receptionist responded, “Dixie Belle.”
“Dixie Belle!” Anita exclaimed. “We’ve got a Belle,” she added, referring to her son Griffin’s dog Belle, who is the mother of Gov. Perry’s black Labrador, Rory, according to ABC News.
Throughout the trip, Perry wielded what is the strongest card for a political wife: the ability to shed a personal light on her husband, the candidate.
“He grew up in a part of a community, not a town. It had a Baptist church on one end, and a Methodist church on the other end,” she said at Dyer’s diner. “I grew up like 10 miles up the road; he said I was a city girl. I had 42-hundred in my town,” she said as patrons chuckled.
“What we learned growing up in rural Texas, we learned about family, we learned about faith, we learned about what we thought was important in life. That you took care of each other,” she added.
And she vouched for her husband.
“I take a deep breath and really hope that people will give him a fair listening; an opportunity to listen to what he has to say,” she said. “I’m married to the man. I’ve known him since I was eight years old. He’s a good man, he’s principled, he makes tough decisions, he’s a leader, so I just want everybody to give a fair look at him.”