(Photo: REUTERS/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Unless a fellow contender drops out of the race or is involved in a major scandal, one political expert believes Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry’s chances at a South Carolina win may already be over.
Laura Olson, a professor of religion and politics at Clemson University, said Perry’s repeated mistakes and painful debates have pretty much blown his chances at wooing voters in the social conservative state. As a result, Olson said there is very little he can do or say personally to regain his past momentum and win the South Carolina primary.
“He does not control his own destiny in this race anymore,” she said.
Instead, Perry’s fate is tied to whether front-runner Mitt Romney and Iowa surge candidate Rick Santorum can sustain their momentum, Olson told The Christian Post in a Tuesday interview.
“If Santorum were to slip … if the results from New Hampshire today suggest that Romney is at all vulnerable, someone gets reasonably close to Romney tonight, then I suppose in Perry’s case one never knows. But the odds are he isn't going to do very well [in South Carolina]," she explained.
Romney won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night with 39 percent of the vote. Texas Congressman Ron Paul came in second with nearly 23 percent of the vote and Jon Huntsman followed with nearly 17 percent of the vote.
Perry was last among the six candidates with less than 1 percent of the primary vote.
Sensing the Texas governor's diminished chances in the secular state, Perry diverted his time and energy away from New Hampshire early to get a head start in South Carolina.
South Carolina has favored conservative Republicans in the past eight general elections.
"He's (Perry) got natural appeal here both because of obvious evangelical bona fides and also because of his advocacy of reasonably small government," Olson described.
Still, she said, "It’s highly unlikely that he’s going to come in here and win or even come in the top three or four."
The Texas governor led the Republican nominee race by over 30 percent after he joined in the summer of 2011. However, that lead dropped after Perry experienced a number of embarrassing gaffes during televised debates and interviews.
“I think that Republicans who pay attention to these kinds of things quickly concluded that even though he looks great on paper, maybe he isn't going to do so well when push comes to shove, when he's out on the campaign trail and when he's going to be in front of the media. Republicans, of course, are looking for someone who is going to beat [Barack] Obama," she explained.
Perry also seems to have lost favor with a new breed of discerning evangelicals.
"For a long time evangelical voters … were content to sort of support someone who looked like them on the surface, who spoke the right language, said the right kind of things in speeches and made the right kind of promises," Olson described.
Now, she said, evangelicals are more skeptical and want someone who can produce results.
Already, Perry, despite his Christian messaging, finished fifth in a state that once nominated social conservative Mike Huckabee in 2008 and nearly nominated Santorum.
Perry currently has 5 percent of Republican support in South Carolina, according to a Real Clear Politics poll analysis.
Still, the Perry campaign is pressing on. It announced that Perry has filed the necessary documents to appear on the Washington, D.C., Arizona, Illinois, Ohio and Vermont ballots.
Olson recommended that Perry use his financial edge on the South Carolina race. Perry's well-funded campaign has $15,078,415 in cash on hand, according to financial disclosure website OpenSecrets.com. She said this is a crucial race for Perry that may mean the end of his campaign if he does not win.