ROCK HILL, S.C. – Newly an Iowa caucus veteran, Anita Perry told a group of Republican women here that she was “surprised” at her husband Rick’s fifth place showing because his crowds in the state had been so enthusiastic.
“I thought, oh, we’re going to do much better than we did, you know, sixth, or fifth or fourth,” she said.
Referring to a Texas Tribune columnist’s line a few days after the caucus, Perry said, “It truly felt like we were ‘kicked in the stomach’ because that was not what I thought was going to happen that night.”
Like her husband has done in the past, Perry attributed part of his poor showing to the caucus’ open format, where Democrats and independents can also vote. But South Carolina has an open primary too, although unlike Iowa, voters can’t register at the polls but have a 30-day cutoff.
The Texas first lady was joined at the event, hosted by the York County Republican Women, by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, an early Perry supporter who also went to Iowa to make caucus speeches that he said were well-received but fruitless.
“While everybody is saying the right things, only Governor Perry has actually done them,” Mulvaney said, then paused before he added, “That was, by the way, that’s the end of my 2-minute caucus speech. And we didn’t do so well.”
In an interview with NBC News after the event, Mulvaney said that Perry had been defined by his debate performances in Iowa and that in order to revive his campaign here, he needs to portray himself as a candidate who can win the presidency and not focus so much on his record as governor of Texas.
“I think that if we can convince people that he can win, he’s got a chance to win South Carolina.”
Mulvaney, a fiscally-focused legislator who helped craft Perry’s jobs plan, also said he would like Perry (as he would most lawmakers) to talk more about the economy, but said he understands Perry is contrasting himself with the other “non-Romney” candidates by painting himself as the most socially conservative choice.
“I think it’s just a dynamic of what this race has sort of shaken out as, which is sort of Romney and then the non-Romney candidate,” Mulvaney said. “One of the distinguishing factors between Gov. Perry, Sen. Santorum, Mr. Gingrich, would be on the social issues.”
The freshman congressman added that while he had initially been unsure as to whether or not Perry would drop out of the race after his poor Iowa results, he was happy he decided not to.
“I was glad that he stayed in because it gives him, if nothing else, a chance to reclaim his reputation. There’s a reason the man has run the 13th largest economy in the world for the last 11 years. He’s really good at what he does.”
During her speech, Anita Perry also noted what she said was her husband’s resolve to continue on to South Carolina after Iowa.
“Within five or six hours he called me up - he’d gone for a run – and said, ‘Are you ready to go to South Carolina?’ And I said ‘yes I am,’” Perry said as the group of Republican women applauded.
While the women seemed happy to host a candidates’ spouse, at least one of the group’s leaders expressed dissatisfaction that Gov. Nikki Haley decided to declare a preference in the primary: Mitt Romney.
“It really was unfair to the other candidates because it points toward somebody as far as the members of your state. And so I am disappointed in that,” said York County Republican Women president Pogo Olson.