COLUMBIA, S.C. - The Republican Party must control Congress in order to solve national problems like immigration, Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, said Wednesday during a fundraiser for the South Carolina Republican Party.
Despite recently being indicted on two felony counts of abuse of power, Perry visited the Palmetto State - the first Southern state to hold a primary during presidential elections - right after spending a few days in New Hampshire, which holds the second nominating contest in the country. In addition to the fundraiser, Perry had time to watch Texas A&M, his alma mater, take on the University of South Carolina. Perry was a yell leader at A&M.
He had a few other stops planned around Columbia, the state capital, including a speech to high school athletes who belong to a Christian organization.
South Carolina was the final resting place of Perry's 2012 presidential campaign. He dropped out just before the primary election was held after poor showings in both New Hampshire and Iowa.
The Texas governor barely mentioned the 2016 presidential race during his 10-minute speech Wednesday night, in keeping with his recent focus on policy issues. Instead, he told the roughly 100-person crowd that it's important for Republicans to retake the Senate and bring all of Congress into their control so they can have a voice on issues like immigration reform. He reminded his audience that President Obama refused his invitation to tour the Texas-U.S. border with him during a trip earlier this summer.
"I don't care how good your briefers are. The president needed to see the challenge of that 1,200-mile border," he said.
Perry has not hesitated to criticize the administration's handling of the flood of children who have arrived at the southern border in recent months, and he deployed 1,000 National Guard troops to the area earlier this summer to help shore up the overburdened Border Patrol agents and other Texas law enforcement.
Democrats criticized Perry for the seemingly politically-motivated travel after the indictment, which was issued after he publicly pressed a state official who had been convicted of drunk driving to step down from her post and then vetoed funds for her office when she refused. Prosecutors said Perry overstepped his authority. Perry calls the case politically motivated, and has noted the several liberal public figures, like former Obama adviser David Axelrod, have agreed with him.
"It is a governor's right, whether it is a Republican governor or the next Democratic governor if they ever elect one in Texas, to veto a piece of legislation," Perry said. "That's what standing up for the rule of law is about."
His team of high-powered attorneys asked a judge to dismiss the felony charges Monday, arguing that the law being used to prosecute him is unconstitutionally vague.
"Attempts to convert inescapably political disputes into criminal complaints" shouldn't be allowed to go forward, the lawyers argue.
Perry's allies say that the legal charges have actually helped, not hurt him, and several high-profile Republicans who he might face in a 2016 nomination fight have backed him. His adviser in New Hampshire, Mike Dennehy, told CBS News last week that the number of people who signed up to attend a rally with him went "through the roof" after the indictment.
Perry is the third potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate to recently head to South Carolina. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida talked about immigration in Anderson, S.C., while Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky attended to a barbecue in Rock Hill, where he talked about the need to expand the party's appeal to minorities.
Perry's trip is as much about football as politics. He wore a polo shirt with a Texas A&M logo, and all the TVs at the fundraiser were turned not to the news, but to the new SEC Network.
"You know that I am a guy that is not afraid to stand up for what I believe in when I come to Columbia when we are playing the Gamecocks," Perry said. "We are going to love each other and be on the same team until about 6 o'clock tomorrow and then it is game on."