Four days before the South Carolina primary, Rick Perry is facing pressure from his own supporters to end his campaign and consolidate the conservative vote.
On Tuesday, Larry Grooms, a state senator from South Carolina who had previously endorsed Perry, released a statement calling on the Texas governor to concede his supporters to a more viable candidate.
It is apparent that Gov. Perry cannot win and has no viable strategy in moving forward. Remaining in the race at this point only serves to steer votes away from viable candidate, Grooms said. The history of our primary teaches us that when conservatives split, big government wins. Now is the time for us to re-evaluate our choices and coalesce around a single candidate.
A spokesman for Perry defended his decision to stay in the race through South Carolina and said he was not considering dropping out.
Rick Perry is the most successful and consistent social, fiscal and Tea Party conservative in the race for the White House, Ray Sullivan, Perry's communications director, told the International Business Times. He is taking that conservative record and message to the voters of South Carolina and is confident they will make the right decision.
Is Perry Fragmenting the Conservative Vote?
The numbers, however, do not look promising. Perry has just 5.8 percent support in the RealClearPolitics poll average, putting him in last place in a state whose voters tend to gravitate toward evangelical, socially-conservative candidates like himself. He failed to seal the deal with those voters when he held double-digit leads in August and September, and his support tanked in October. He never got it back, and few observers believe he will.
The failure of Perry's presidential campaign was clear two weeks ago, when he placed fifth in Iowa. For a few hours, he seemed to acknowledge as much, announcing that he would return to Texas and determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race. But not even a day later, he tweeted a picture of himself in running clothes with the message, And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State...Here we come South Carolina!!!
His decision to continue the marathon, as he put it, upset many conservative leaders. These leaders fear that the presence of three conservative candidates on the South Carolina ballot -- Perry, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum -- will split the powerful evangelical and social-conservative voting blocs and hand Mitt Romney a potentially decisive win in a state where he would normally struggle.
Together, Gingrich, Santorum, and Perry Have 42 Percent Support in South Carolina
Current poll numbers and past experience both justify that fear. Together, Gingrich, Santorum and Perry have 42 percent support heading in to Saturday's South Carolina primary, which allocates delegates proportionally, or based on percent of votes a candidate receives. Individually, they have 22 percent, 14.3 percent and 5.8 percent, while Mitt Romney has 30.5 percent. Voters can do the math. And that break-down is far removed from the 2008 Republican primaries, in which Mike Huckabee might have beaten John McCain had it not been for Fred Thompson siphoning off some conservative support.
Conservatives are acutely aware that a split vote would hand Romney the nomination, and they are in agreement about the need to, as Grooms put it, coalesce around a single candidate. The problem is, no matter how many summits they convene, they cannot decide who that candidate should be.
More than 100 evangelical leaders met in Texas over the weekend to try to settle on a candidate, and it came down to a battle between supporters of Gingrich and Santorum -- Perry was eliminated in the first round of voting. And now, with his statement Tuesday, Grooms is urging his fellow conservatives to put aside their personal candidate preferences in the interest of beating Romney, and at least narrow the conservative choices from three to two.