SPARTANBURG — Texas Gov. Rick Perry talked about his state’s economic-development successes Tuesday during the first day of a two-day swing through the Upstate, not the possibility that he will run for president again in 2016.
Perry, who is not seeking re-election as governor, said he was more concerned about Republicans winning races nationwide in 2014.
Visiting the state where his 2012 presidential campaign ended, Perry kept to his economic-development theme, touring a hospital and pharmaceutical company.
But the politics were obvious.
Perry drove away with a trio of S.C. state lawmakers after telling the Rotary Club of Downtown Spartanburg that governors — not Washington lawmakers — offer the best solutions to the country’s health care and education woes.
Perry also took a swipe at Democrats, saying Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act is “like putting 1,000 more people on the Titanic.”
Tuesday evening, Perry gave the keynote speech at a fund-raising banquet for the S.C. GOP and Spartanburg County Republican Party.
Last month, Perry spoke at a county GOP party fundraiser in Des Moines, Iowa, which like South Carolina is an early presidential primary state.
Perry told reporters Tuesday that he took away lessons from his 2012 presidential bid about the difficulty of starting a campaign so late in the primary process and only six weeks after undergoing back surgery. His White House run came undone after debate gaffes.
The Lone Star State’s boss had backers at his Rotary speech.
“He kind of messed up (in 2012), and I kind of think he’s recovered from that,” said retired banker Gaines Mason, who voted for Mitt Romney in the state’s 2012 primary.
The most frequent 2016 GOP hopefuls visiting South Carolina this year have come from the libertarian wing of the party — U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Their hopes likely are buoyed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s surprise 2012 S.C. primary win over eventual GOP nominee Romney, considered a centrist among the GOP candidates. Perry endorsed Gingrich after dropping out of the race.
Perry, who will speak at the two Upstate gatherings Wednesday, is making his second visit to South Carolina this year.
He was one of three governors who spoke at Gov. Nikki Haley’s re-election announcement in Greenville in August, offering to campaign for the Lexington Republican if asked.
Perry took time at the Rotary speech to praise South Carolina’s economic-development successes under Haley, whose endorsement will be sought highly in 2016 if she wins re-election next year.
“Nikki Haley is putting policies in place to make South Carolina more competitive than Texas,” Perry said Tuesday. “Governors, like Nikki Haley, who know they are in competition and put on their running shoes, make the rest of us uncomfortable.”
Perry also made a pitch to University of South Carolina fans. He apologized that his alma mater, Texas A&M, failed to beat Missouri Saturday, allowing the Gamecocks to win the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division title.
“It was just one of those seasons,” he told Rotarians.