AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — An undeterred Texas Gov. Rick Perry vowed Wednesday to press ahead with his White House bid as he headed home to map out a winning strategy following a fifth-place finish in the “quirky” Iowa caucuses.
“This was not a hard decision,” Perry said in Des Moines, Iowa.
He said he decided to stay in the race for the Republican presidential nomination during a cold, morning run. He sounded glad to be finished with the Iowa portion of the campaign and looked ahead to South Carolina’s contest on Jan. 21.
“This is quirky place and a quirky process to say the least,” Perry said of Iowa and its caucuses. “We’re going to go into places where they have actual primaries and there are going to be real Republicans voting.”
Perry’s decision to stick with it, for now, indicates that conservatives to some degree will remain divided among several candidates, including Rick Santorum, who surged in the final days of the Iowa campaign to finish in a near-tie with winner Mitt Romney.
That may give Romney, considered more moderate, an edge in upcoming contests.
Perry’s announcement, which came via Twitter, surprised some observers.
“And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State. ... Here we come South Carolina!!!” he wrote. Attached to the tweet was a photo of Perry after what appeared to have been a morning jog.
The announcement marked a quick turnaround from the emotional speech Perry gave a night earlier.
In those remarks, Perry told supporters he would reassess whether to continue the campaign after winning only 10 percent of the Iowa vote.
But by morning, he had decided not to join one-time rival Michele Bachmann on the sidelines. The Minnesota congresswoman who finished in last place, behind Perry, announced Wednesday that she was ending her campaign.
Perry planned to spend several days in Texas days before going to New Hampshire, which holds its primary Tuesday, for a pair of weekend debates. From there, he would head to South Carolina, where the primary is Jan. 21.
“South Carolina is a place where I feel very comfortable,” the governor said. “We’re going to give the people of South Carolina, New Hampshire and America a choice in this election.”
With Newt Gingrich having faded and Santorum short on cash, Perry’s supporters say he still has a chance of winning over social conservatives and emerging as Romney’s chief challenger.
“He can still do very well in the South and it gives him an opportunity to grab momentum. Not one delegate was committed yesterday, so this process could easily go into the spring,” said Henry Barbour, nephew of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and a member of the Republican National Committee who has raised money for Perry. “There’s not a reason to just get out of the race after just one event.”
Perry, who struggled through earlier debates, will be under even more scrutiny at this weekend’s forums in New Hampshire. His campaign has paid little attention to that state, where he doesn’t have much support, to focus on South Carolina and Florida.
But polls in South Carolina show he will need to win over Bachmann loyalists and erode Santorum’s support to become competitive again.
After entering the race in August to great fanfare, Perry nosedived, plagued by missteps, most notably in debates. But unlike rivals Santorum and Gingrich, Perry is still flush with cash, giving him an edge over those two candidates.
Perry’s decision to remain a candidate came hours after his national political director, Wayne Hamilton, told campaign workers during a conference call that a decision wouldn’t come for another “day or two,” according to a participant on the call.
The mixed messages, combined with a weak Iowa finish, have devastated morale in the Perry camp and left some prominent supporters beginning to look for alternatives.
“Obviously it’s not looking very good right now,” said Pete Silva, a New Hampshire state representative and member of Perry’s steering committee.
Silva counts himself among the “anybody-but-Romney” camp, but he also has practical concerns.
“I’m not going to get behind someone I don’t think can win again,” he said. “But if I support somebody else, it’s not going to be Romney.”
Barbour said he didn’t think Perry’s apparent moment of doubt would hurt him.
“We said he’d reassess. People can read that any way they want to read it. But what it actually says is, ‘What are our next steps and what is the way forward?’” he said.
Associated Press writers Will Weissert in Austin, Steve Peoples in Concord, N.H., and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.