NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — To know Rick Perry was to ignore him.
The more he campaigned for the Republican nomination for president, the lower his poll numbers dropped.
As he traveled the country, gripping and grinning with voters, laying out his personality, plans and proposals, his surge began to sag like a leaky zeppelin.
Though Perry is an experienced politician and the longest-serving governor in Texas history, though people say he is warm and personable — unless you are a condemned murderer, that is — the more people around the country saw him, the less they seemed to like him.
And Thursday, in a suburban hotel meeting room stuffed with reporters but without supporters, Perry suspended his campaign in an 11-minute speech that he read from notes and then left the room without taking questions.
There were two notable moments, however: First, he endorsed Newt Gingrich — but in the worst possible way.
He began well. "I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country," Perry said.
At which point, he should have stopped. Instead, he plunged onward. "Newt is not perfect," Perry said, showing a certain flair for the obvious, "but who among us is?"
The public had been reminded of Newt's imperfection Thursday morning, when ABC broadcast portions of an interview with Newt's second wife, who alleged that Newt came to her seeking an "open" marriage and that he had sexual relations with his girlfriend in the same bed he shared with his wife. (Though not at the same time, thank goodness.)
Gingrich's infidelities over the years have been well documented, but the public was now seeing a wronged women taking about the sordidness, crassness and untrustworthiness of a man who just happens to be running for president of the United States and faces a critical primary in South Carolina on Saturday.
So why was Perry bringing up Gingrich's character in what was supposed to be an endorsement?
Well, maybe because Perry wants some goody points from Gingrich for endorsing him while it still counts, but also wants to distance himself a little just in case Gingrich flames out for being a philanderer.
"The fact is," Perry said, "there is forgiveness for those who seek God, and I believe in the power of redemption, for it is a central tenet of my own Christian faith."
Needless to say, Gingrich was not in the room to hear how God could forgive a man even like him.
The second interesting part of Perry's withdrawal was how upbeat it was about Perry's own future.
Nothing in his presidential campaign had gone well. Mitt Romney attacked Perry for signing into law a bill that lets the children of illegal aliens qualify for in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities. Michele Bachmann attacked Perry for his executive order mandating a vaccine for young girls to fight cervical cancer.
And then there was Perry's "brain freeze" during a debate, an understandable human moment that nonetheless became the equivalent of Howard Dean's scream in 2004, an event that seemed to disqualify him from the highest office in the land.
Perry spent more than $6 million in Iowa in this campaign, came in fifth and announced he was going home to "reassess" his future. Instead, he decided to push onward into South Carolina, where he spent another chunk of the $17.2 million he says he has raised.
But he gets to keep any money left over for the future, and the future seemed very much on Perry's mind Thursday.
Calling his withdrawal only a "strategic retreat," Perry concluded by saying, "And this I know: I am not done fighting for the cause of conservatism. In fact, I have only begun to fight."
What does that mean?
Well, it could mean Perry will run for re-election as governor of Texas, Ray Sullivan, his spokesman, told reporters after Perry had disappeared from the room.
And then there is always 2016.
Perry may be "doing this again in four years, if the president wins," Sullivan said. "Republican voters tend to like the experienced candidates that they've seen for a long time. So I would not rule it out."
Perry appears to have been bitten by the presidential bug. And for some campaigners, it's not over even when it's over.
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.