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Small crowds speak to Rick Perry's struggles, dying campaign

GREER, S.C. -- Rick Perry walked into a pizza shop with eight news cameras trained on him, a dozen more reporters and a handful of Texas troopers and campaign staff.

At most, a dozen people wait for him Wednesday at Wild Ace Pizza.

This isn’t what a top-tier presidential candidate’s events should look like just days before Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

But Perry is no longer a top-tier candidate. And the crowds — or the lack of them — are just another indicator that Perry is about to lose his third race in a row after Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney won in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The tough-talkin’ Texas governor, who used to brag he never lost an election, is expected to leave the race before the Florida primary on Jan. 31, assuming he places fourth in South Carolina as the polls show. A CNN poll showed him pulling only 6 percent of the vote.

“I don’t know what really happened to him,” says Larry Stinson, a 58-year-old disabled veteran who was part of the pizza parlor skeleton crew that met Perry in downtown Greer.

“I hope he can turn it around. But I’m not sure about that.”

Stinson shared with Perry a story about how Romney was “arrogant” to him last week during a stop at a Greer motorcycle shop. Stinson said he wanted to ask Romney if he’d give up his presidential salary if elected.

“You’re worth almost $250 million ..., ” Stinson said he started to ask Romney before the Republican front-runner cut him off: “Yes I am.”

Romney walked away and Stinson said he couldn’t finish his question because he was blocked by the crush of supporters.

Stinson didn’t have that problem Wednesday. He chatted up Perry in the restaurant and, later on Trade Street, a post-card perfect stretch of mom-and-pop shops nestled among red brick buildings.

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