COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry told South Carolina Republicans on Wednesday that it's important for the GOP to control Congress so they can solve the country's immigration problem and other national issues.
The potential presidential candidate kicked off two days of events in the state that holds the first-in-the-South primary with a fundraising party in Columbia. The timing lets the former yell leader at Texas A&M take in some football, too, as his beloved Aggies open the college football season Thursday against South Carolina. He has several other stops planned around Columbia before the game, including a speech to high school athletes who belong to a Christian organization.
Perry ran for president in 2012, but he dropped out before South Carolina's first-in-the-South primary after a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary.
The Texas Republican hardly mentioned the 2016 presidential race during his 10-minute speech Wednesday night, instead telling the crowd of about 100 people how important it is for Republicans to take back Congress so they can have a voice on issues like immigration reform. He noted that President Barack Obama refused his invitation to tour Texas' border with Mexico with him.
"I don't care how good your briefers are. The president needed to see the challenge of that 1,200-mile border," he said.
Democrats criticized Perry for visiting South Carolina after his indictment earlier this month over a veto he issued. Prosecutors said Perry overstepped his authority by using the power of his veto to try to coerce a prosecutor to leave office after a drunken driving conviction. Perry calls the case politically motivated.
"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."
Perry is the third potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate to visit the state. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida visited Anderson and talked about immigration, while Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky went to a barbecue in Rock Hill and talked about how the party needs to reach out to minorities to grow.
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 on the new SEC Network instead of a news channel.
"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."
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP