GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry may not be saying whether he's running for president again, but he sure is acting like it.
His two-day swing through the first-in-the-South primary state had all the hallmarks of a campaign blitz -- jokes about college football; heavy praise of the state's governor, Nikki Haley; and even a blueprint, if a very broad one, of what the Republican Party should be trying to accomplish.
"We have to do more than oppose just oppose this president's agenda. We have to offer a compelling alternative," Perry said Tuesday night at a dinner host by the Spartanburg Republican Party in conjunction with the state GOP.
He also addressed some current events, criticizing the Obama administration for "exploiting" tragedies like the Newtown shooting in order to advance its gun control agenda, and alluding to the recent government shutdown, saying, "If they'll barricade the World War II Memorial, they will stop at nothing to make a political point."
But Perry demurred every time he was asked about his plans beyond early 2015, when his term as governor ends (he has already said he won't run for the office again).
"My focus is on 2014, and it's not going to be distracted, much as you would like to get me to talk about 2016," he told a reporter after a luncheon with business types in the manufacturing hub of Spartanburg.
He was willing, however, to talk about what he might do differently with the benefit of hindsight, having run a 2012 campaign marred by embarrassing hiccups -- most memorably, his "oops" moment during a Nov. 2011 debate when he could not remember the name of a government department he would eliminate if elected (Energy).
"If you're going to run for the presidency, you don't need to have major back surgery six weeks before it starts," he said, referring to medication he was on that his camp blamed for erratic behavior during some of his appearances like at an October speech in New Hampshire.
Perry also said he would focus more on his jobs record as governor of the Lone Star State. "I thought everybody outside the state of Texas knew how successful Texas had been economically. And that wasn't necessarily the case," he said.
The attributes that make Perry a good match for South Carolina voters were on full display during the two-day swing through the state's conservative Upstate: his college football joke, in which he apologized for his alma mater Texas A&M losing to Missouri, which prevented the University of South Carolina Gamecocks from winning the SEC East, was well-received.
So were some of the standard lines that he brought back from his 2012 stump speech, like his references to his tiny hometown of Paint Creek, Texas, which he said his dad referred to as "the Big Empty;" his service flying C-130 cargo planes in the US Air Force; and his attainment of Eagle Scout status.
He also joked that he had the most "country" bona fides out of the Republican presidential field last time around.
"There's always somebody who tries to 'out-country' the others, right?" he asked the members of the Electric Co-Ops of South Carolina, a politically active group that donates to Republican and Democratic candidates. He added that he once told his opponents, "I wouldn't go there with me trying to out-'country boy' me."
He was also quick to lavish praise on the state's high-profile governor, Nikki Haley, saying she keeps him and other governors on their toes in terms of business competition and shares a philosophy of "predictable" regulation. Haley, whose support was highly-sought after during the 2012 election, endorsed Mitt Romney.
Perry was accompanied on this trip through the Palmetto State by the same team he had here during his campaign, among them former SC GOP chairman Katon Dawson and veteran consultant Walter Whetsell. Their aim is to have Perry ready to hit the ground running in South Carolina if he decides to run -- and to have South Carolina ready for Perry.
The Texas governor certainly wanted South Carolinians to know he'll be back soon -- at least next August, when his Aggies take on the Gamecocks in the SEC kickoff game.
One man at a Boy Scouts fundraising luncheon Perry addressed Wednesday invited him to watch that game from the 50-yard line.
"You're on," Perry replied.