MYRTLE BEACH, SC -- In a wide-ranging forum that was a cross between a town hall, a focus group, and an appearance on Oprah, Texas Gov. Rick Perry reflected on how his rocky presidential run has affected his relationship with his God, his country, and his marriage.
With his wife of 29 years seated beside him, Perry's voice was thick with emotion as he told host Frank Luntz of his "best friend": wife Anita. "If I just had to walk away from all this, if she was walking with me, it'd all be OK."
Perry, whose once-swaggering campaign appears to be limping toward an end after the South Carolina primary, also seemed on the verge of choking up as he spoke with pride about America's role in the world.
"When I'm standing on that stage getting ready to debate, I'm standing at attention. And I'm standing with my hand over my heart to reflect my belief what a great and incredible country we live in," he said. "And those symbols of this country should never ever be used in any other way than to hold up America for the great freedoms and the hope for this world that it reflects."
Speaking before an audience of mothers at the event sponsored by website CafeMom, Perry fielded questions on education and immigration policy. But one of his most candid answers came in reply to a question from Luntz about his faith.
"You know God didn't say 'I want you running.' But ... there were certainly things that I tested God on before I made the decision about this," he said of his late entry into the presidential contest.
"He sure didn't tell me I was gonna win," he added to laughter. "But I know I'm doing God's will for my life. And I agree with Anita that my life -- and particularly my spiritual life -- has been substantially strengthened. I've matured as a Christian in the last six months as I've gone through this process."
Anita Perry also discussed the increasing role that faith has played in her life since Perry joined the race. "The longer we are in it the more dependent upon that faith and prayer that I become," she said.
The Perrys lost their closest personal friends in the race this morning, when Jon Huntsman formally bowed out of the race five days before the South Carolina primary. On Monday, Perry called the former Utah governor "a dear friend" with "a beautiful, wonderful, fun family." Perry also said he hoped to get an endorsement from Huntsman's high-profile daughters.
While the mom-focused event focused heavily on the softer side of the Perrys and their personal relationships, Perry did offer a warning early in his remarks that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's failure to publicly release his tax returns could result in an "October surprise" in the general election.
"And every candidate up there, they should put their taxes out, including Mitt," he said. "You know, November, or excuse me, September and October, is not the time for us to be finding out that, whoops, there’s something out there that is a problem. We need to know it now.”