By Dave Montgomery, McClatchy Newspapers –
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign confronted new danger signs Wednesday as a new poll showed the governor at the back of the pack just days before the South Carolina primary.
One of his chief rivals, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, called on Perry and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum to drop out of the Republican nomination battle, and speculation intensified that the governor may be nearing the end of the line as a presidential candidate.
But Perry engaged in an aggressive round of campaigning Wednesday, appealing for support in a handshaking stroll though a Greenville suburb, and his chief spokesman said Texas’ long-serving governor plans to go the distance in the countdown to the nation’s first Southern primary on Saturday.
“He’s in the race to win, and the people of South Carolina will decide this race not the pundits or gossip-writers,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner. Asked whether Perry would pull out of the South Carolina race, Miner said “he’ll be campaigning until the votes are counted.”
The poll by CNN/ORC, released late Wednesday afternoon, showed Perry in fifth place with 6 percent. The survey also showed that the race is tightening at the other end of the spectrum, with Gingrich in second place and apparently gaining momentum against the Republican front-runner, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
Romney had 33 percent, compared with 23 percent for Gingrich. Santorum of Pennsylvania had 16 percent and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had 13 percent.
Gingrich urged Santorum and Perry to exit the race so conservatives can unite behind a single “anti-Mitt Romney” candidate, CNN reported.
Also this week, South Carolina state Sen. Larry Grooms withdrew his support for Perry and urged him to drop out. “Remaining in the race at this point only serves to steer votes away from viable candidates,” he said in a statement.
The single-digit showing for Perry raised serious doubts about a rebound. Perry finished fifth in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and had only 1 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, although he abandoned his candidacy in the Granite State to concentrate on South Carolina.
Perry seemingly came close to ending his candidacy the night of the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3, when he told supporters that he planned to return to Texas to reassess. But he changed course the next day after key supporters urged him to stay in the race. Perry also has signaled his intentions to campaign in the Florida primary, regardless of the South Carolina results.
During his appearances in Greer, about 15 miles from Greenville, Perry appeared upbeat and at times combative, assailing President Barack Obama for his decision to halt the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada through the United States.
“This is nothing more than this president giving his political base a victory at the expense of America,” Perry said.