AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A determined Rick Perry announced Wednesday he will not abandon his presidential campaign despite a fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.
"And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State. ... Here we come South Carolina!!!" the Texas governor wrote on his Twitter account. His campaign also confirmed his continued quest for the nomination.
Perry's decision to stick with it, for now, indicates that conservatives to some degree will remain divided among several candidates, including late-surging Rick Santorum, who finished in a near-tie with caucus winner Mitt Romney. That may give Romney, considered more moderate, an edge in the contests ahead.
Catherine Frazier, a campaign spokeswoman for the campaign, said Perry would stay in the Texas capital for a few days before participating in weekend debates in New Hampshire and then going to South Carolina. The New Hampshire primary is Jan. 10, followed by the first-in-the-South vote Jan. 21.
Perry, an avid runner, attached a photo of himself jogging near a lake, wearing a Texas A&M running shorts and showing a thumbs-up. His son, Griffin Perry, followed up a short time later with: "See y'all next week in Carolina! I expect all my SEC brethren to come out in force."
After winning 10 percent of the kickoff vote Tuesday, Perry headed to Austin while campaign aides packed up his Iowa operations. They boxed up equipment and materials and readied the load for a rental truck destined for South Carolina.
The photo of Perry after what appears to have been a cold morning jog was decidedly defiant compared to the emotional speech he gave in Iowa. In his remarks, Perry told supporters that he appreciated their work but needed to consider whether there was a viable strategy for him to restart his campaign in South Carolina.
Most supporters in Texas interpreted the announcement as a first step toward suspending his campaign. But after Newt Gingrich's drop in the polls and Michele Bachmann's exit from the race, Perry's supporters say he still has a chance of winning over social conservatives who oppose Romney, with the poorly financed Santorum his chief rival.
"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 has struggled in 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, and focused on South Carolina and Florida. But polls there 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.
Perry's decision to maintain his candidacy came hours after his national political director, Wayne Hamilton, told campaign workers in a morning conference call that a decision wouldn't come for another "day or two," according to someone 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 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."
But Barbour didn't think Perry's apparent moment of doubt will 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.