Ahead of presidential bid, Rick Perry and evangelical leaders court each other
Texas Gov. Rick Perry leads a prayer event August 6 in Houston. Thousands prayed for God to save "a nation in crisis."
August 12th, 2011
07:37 AM ET

Ahead of presidential bid, Rick Perry and evangelical leaders court each other

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – Evangelical pastor Jim Garlow has met Texas Gov. Rick Perry only once, but the politician left quite an impression.

Garlow, who is based in California, where he helped lead the campaign to ban same-sex marriage in the state, was attending a big prayer rally that Perry sponsored last weekend in Houston when he and his wife were invited backstage with the governor.

“My wife has stage 4 cancer, and Perry ended up talking with her quite a bit and praying for her and her healing,” Garlow said. “We spent a fair amount of time backstage.”

Though Garlow notes that the meeting was personal, not political, he is hardly the only conservative evangelical leader who has begun forming a relationship with Perry in recent days.

As the Texas governor has mulled a bid for the presidency over the last few months – a source familiar with his plans says he will formally announce his candidacy on Saturday – Perry and his circle have reached out to Christian activists who will be influential in the GOP primaries.

At the same time, many of those conservative leaders - underwhelmed by the Republican presidential field so far - have contacted Perry and those close to him to inquire about his commitment to causes like opposition to  abortion and same-sex marriage.

The flurry of meetings and phone calls portends a primary campaign that is likely to rely heavily on evangelical support, presenting a serious challenge to socially conservative candidates like Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann and creating the possibility of two-person race between Perry, a Christian Right darling, and the more establishment Mitt Romney.

“There’s been a significant attempt by him and his staff to reach out to conservative Christian leaders and it’s now going to a new level,” says Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Council, a conservative Christian advocacy group, talking about Perry's outreach.

“Perry is not making the same mistake that McCain made,” Staver said. “McCain wanted Christian conservative votes but didn’t want to get too close to Christian conservative leaders.”

Kelly Shackelford, a Texas-based evangelical activist who has been close to Perry for 20 years, says he has fielded roughly 100 phone calls in recent weeks from Christian activists across the country who are eager to learn more about Perry.

“People are calling and asking, ‘Is this guy really a social conservative and a fiscal conservative?’ and it’s easy to say yes because I’ve seen it,” said Shackelford, who runs a conservative legal advocacy group called the Liberty Institute. “As far as proving himself, he’s been the most solid conservative I’ve seen anywhere in the country.”

Shackelford says Perry has signed more anti-abortion legislation than any governor in the country, including a recent measure that requires women seeking an abortion in Texas to view a picture of the embryo or fetus and hear a description of its development before having the procedure.

Perry is also a supporter of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Many of the activists checking in with Shackelford are concerned that Pawlenty and Bachmann, the other Republican candidates popular among conservative evangelicals, aren’t generating enough support and have limited appeal outside the evangelical subculture.

“They want a candidate who is not only socially and fiscally conservative, but who could actually raise money,” says Shackelford. “Perry can bridge the establishment and grass roots sides of the party and that’s really hard to find.”

Perry, who has presided over a state that has seen strong job growth amid the economic downturn, is considered popular among business groups.

“Rick Perry has the potential to energize tea party and social conservatives, as well as attract endorsements and contributions from GOP donors and elected officials,” said Ralph Reed, who leads the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

“Not unlike another Texas governor, George W. Bush, he can bridge the establishment wing of the party and the conservative grass roots,” said Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition. “That’s quite a combination, and my sense is he will reshuffle this race in a significant way.”

Romney, the current establishment favorite, is unpopular among many conservative Christian activists because of his onetime support for abortion rights and because of a health care law he signed as governor of Massachusetts that mandates coverage.

And Romney, a Mormon, faces obstacles in connecting with evangelical voters along religious lines, as Perry, Pawlenty and Bachmann appear to be doing.

A CNN/ORC International Poll released Thursday showed 15% of Republican and independent voters who lean toward the GOP picked Perry as their choice for the Republican nomination.

That put Perry, still not officially a candidate, just 2 percentage points behind Romney, considered the front-runner in the nominating process. Romney's advantage over Perry is within the survey's sampling error.

Much of the evangelical organizing around Perry grew out of last weekend’s Houston prayer rally, called The Response, which Perry began organizing last year.

The event, cosponsored by conservative evangelical groups, was aimed at bringing God's help to a "nation in crisis,” and drew thousands of worshippers.

“I got involved in The Response three or four months ago and at that time, the Perry for president push was not the issue," said Garlow, who is supporting Newt Gingrich for president but has been disappointed in the response to the former House Speaker's campaign so far. "It became that way primarily after Huckabee pulled his name out of the race.”

Indeed, many conservative activists began calling on Perry to run only after former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee announced in May that he would not seek the White House.

“I was astounded at the pressure on him to run," Garlow said. "You felt it building and we were trying to plan this prayer event and we’re saying, ‘How do we keep this out of politics because this is about Christ?' ”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Politics • Rick Perry

soundoff (573 Responses)
  1. CW


    @ Atheist,

    To address your point...Yes I'm sure you have good morals but let me ask where did you get them from? Most likely from your parents..where did they get theirs...probably the same...my point is that the Bible IS the book on "how to live". Without that then where would we get our morals from?...Peggy's etiquette book?...the golden rules book...both written by who?...people that made their "own" morals..right wrong or indifferent. You see the Christian values and morals have ALWAYS been for the good of man.

    @ J.W.

    Now to address your question of how are conservatives more christian. Let's see...take ab.ortion most all demo.crats, liberals say..."that's okay to kill babies". Oooo here is another..."g-ay marriage" as I recall O-bamma as I call him wants to legalize this sinful lifestyle. All of these are wrong per the Bible...now there is just TWO of the many examples.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • J.W

      Ok I will give you a couple of examples. Republicans given tax breaks to the wealthy while cutting programs to help the poor and middle class. Republicans sending our soldiers to die in unnecessary wars.

      August 12, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • J.W

      And why is gay marriage such a sinful lifestyle? Do you know that the word ho.mose.xual was not added to the Bible until like the 1600s

      August 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • EthicalWithoutMagic

      You obviously have not read the bible if you think it should be a model for morality. Are you really so naive as to think that morality/ethics must be dictated from a magic sky wizard? That doesn't say much about you as a person. "Christian values have always always been for the good of man"? You might want to seek the opinion of everyone persecuted by the church throughout history before you make such an ignorant statement (present day included).

      August 12, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • CW

      @ J.W.

      On your first point...so let me get this straight..sending solders who sign up to "willingly" give their lives for our country is worse than killing a baby that has "no choice"...Ok...now that's cre.epy. Secondly those tax breaks are ment to encourage investment, jobs, spending. I know there are some things that shouldn't be cut that DO help the poor, handicapt and the needy but there are wasteful programs.."food stamps" for one that encourage nothing.

      On your last post..."hom-o added in the 1600's"?...don't think that will fly...just like all the "prove it folks say"..."prove it". Show me where its written in the bible that this word was added in the 1600's. And yes this is a sinful lifestyle..its wrong..period.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • fred

      The republicans did not cut anything to the poor. That is an old democrate sound bit. As a matter of fact most people beleive republican politicians are the wealthiest yet in 2010 nine of out the top 10 wealthyiest in congress were democrats.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • J.W

      Well obviously its not going to say that in the Bible, but if you go back to the original translation of the Bible the word used did not translate to ho.mo.se.xual. Also the soldiers are not the only ones who die in wars. Thousands of innocent civilians die as well. And if all of these tax cuts encouraged investment then those investments obviously did not help the economy.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • ReasonableXX

      CW...are you stating that the only reason you and your fellow Christians are moral is because you are being "watched" from above and live under the constant threat of being sent to hell? If you need a threat from "above" to be a moral person than you and your lot are a scary bunch indeed! Not to mention a great number of moral atrocities have been committed in the past (and present) in the name of Christianity and using the bible as justification.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • EthicalWithoutMagic

      @ReasonableXX I couldn't have said it better myself. Oh wait, I did :D. It's obvious that CW doesn't have an answer for either of us.

      Have a great weekend everyone!

      August 12, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • fred

      Well, I follow Jesus to give glory to God. Initially it seemed really rotten that I could no longer do all the stuff that once seemed so much fun. Then after a while it sunk in that the other stuff was not really fun at all just something sold to me by the media giants. I don't need to be mr jet setter George Jetson is just fine by me. Modern family is a disaster in real life and only works on TV.
      Yeah, I dont follow the bible to stay out of he ll . I follow it because it models right and holy behavior

      August 12, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • fred

      what? Do you expect me to beleive a lower percentage of Atheists and Agnostics inflict harm on than do Christians? The problem has always been human behavior not God. People do sick things because there are statistically a number of sickos running around and any given time. Sickos come in all flavors and beliefs / no beliefs.
      People are shepale and follow the likes of atheist Stalin or the pope.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  2. Shane Gillespie

    See this is the problem. Religion mixed with politics. Does Freedom of Religion ring a bell? They clearly want to impose their religion on others. There should be new legislation passed that if you run for President, you can't disclose your Religion preference during the campaign.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  3. Bob

    Perry, his cynical "prayer event," and the radical Christian extremists blindly aligning themselves with this snake oil salesman are all nauseating.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  4. Felipe

    What's different between theocratic Chrisitianity and the Taliban? Answer: Both are intolerant of others. Perry as President? It'd be Texas's version of Dumb (Dubya) and Dumber (Perry).

    August 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • forLoko

      Don't forget to see political advisor of Dick Perry at

      August 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  5. Gloria

    The rich religious retain their wealth for themselves and their heirs. The non religious tend to share their wealth with those less fortunate. Also, the none religious, from my experience, tend tend to be fairer and more ethical in their financial dealings, putting them at a slight negative. That's what I learned from experience. My late father and his associates were in the religious category and my mother in the other.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  6. Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

    "Rick Perry and evangelical leaders cou rt each other"
    They are headed to the bathrooms in the airport to cou r t each other

    August 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      If their stance on social issues was as wide as their stance in the can, perhaps I could take them a little more seriously.

      Not enough for me to vote for them, but a little more serioulsy.

      August 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  7. Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

    "Ahead of presidential bid, Rick Perry and evangelical leaders court each other"
    You bet they will in the bathrooms in airports.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  8. mm

    Perry is truly an exciting candidate! His C- average in school, good looks and faith in Jesus are just what this country needs! His trust in the Lord will get us through this mess. He will obey the God's commands even if it means huge tax breaks for the wealthy and cutting eduducation!

    August 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  9. Denise

    Evangelicals are cult leaders and have historically been creepy, dishonest, and even dangerous. Examples include
    Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Warren Jeffs, Jim Jones. Keep the texecutioner away from the WH. One Texas governor
    was enough.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics


      Evangelicals are cult leaders and have historically been creepy, dishonest, and even dangerous. Examples include
      Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Warren Jeffs, Jim Jones. Keep the texecutioner away from the WH. One Texas governor
      was enough.
      Evangelicals are the enemy of freedom and The People.

      August 12, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  10. Gloria

    Beware of false prophets claiming to act in the name of God.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics


      Beware of false prophets claiming to act in the name of God.
      Yes, jesus was one of them.

      August 12, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  11. cf

    The last thing we need is Christian Sharia Law taking over the country. We are supposed to have the FREEDOM of religion, not be a nation that obeys ONE religion's teachings. People like Perry want America to be a theocracy.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  12. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    The God I know is an all seeing and knowing God and if I were Perry or any other religious being I certainly wouldn't play the "political game" using God.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Colin

      I bet he has telepathic powers and can read minds, too.

      Do you Christians ever read what you write?

      August 12, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Anglican

      @ Colin. Most of us do. Your point?

      August 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • I Don't Get It

      Let's see... how does that go again?

      - If Perry wins, it's "God" that put him in
      - If Perry loses, "God" has other plans

      August 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • J.W

      If Perry loses then God must love us and if he wins then God must hate us.

      August 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  13. nightsun2k7

    oops.....within.....not withen

    August 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  14. nightsun2k7

    lol....he'll be caught with his pants down withen 6 months

    August 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  15. Anglican

    Holy God could care less about American politics.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Goodgrief

      I have zero interest in a candidate that puts this much emphasis on religion.
      I want someone who will lead and cut spending and get out of the way of businesses.
      Fiscal conservative – YES
      Social conservative – NO BIG TURN OFF FOR ME

      August 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  16. mark

    i wish they would leave there religion at home instead of bring that crap out in the politics no place for it

    August 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  17. Patchw3rk

    'How do we keep this out of politics because this is about Christ?'

    He is a governor who is running for president so it is going to be political. If he were a religious leader with no political ambition then it would not be political. However, the fact of the matter is that he is a political leader who is bringing religion in to politics.

    August 12, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • mark

      There god has no room in the political arena .It ought to be small cutlases . and no winners

      August 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  18. The Dude

    This has nothing to do with Perry's religious beliefs, but... Am I the only one who finds it odd that two years or so ago Rick Perry gave a speech suggesting his state – Texas – could and possibly should secede from the union of the United States and NOW he wants to be the President of those same United States he no longer wanted his state to be a part of?

    August 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  19. patNY

    Perry is an evil disgusting hateful bigotted piece of garbage and so is anyone else who supports him!

    August 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • herbert juarez

      quit sugar coating your message, tell us how you really feel

      August 12, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • NoMoreYeses

      Awwww.... I bet you say that to all the presidential candidates, don't you sweetie?

      August 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • L Brennan

      This is the kind of politics that we must keep far from the WH. Besides being illegal, the mixing of church and state will lead to a police state; all the power in the hands of these right wing bigots and zealots interfering in our lives and our bedrooms and our privacy and they will take all civil rights away from anyone who does not believe as they do. He is really, as you said, all of the above, but more importantly, this is really disconcerting if someone like Perry could actually get this far. Get out and work on the democratic campaign to re-elect Obama.

      August 12, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • CW

      @ L Brennan,

      Booo hoooo!! So your resolution:

      O-bamma = G-ay marriage, pro-ab.ortion, pro-socialism,..TOTAL CHAOS...talk about a police state..federal goverment telling everyone that owns a company they HAVE TO provide for those that DON'T want to work.

      I'll take a republican anytime....they represent christian values more than any dem.crat or liberal I've ever seen.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Stevie7

      "federal goverment telling everyone that owns a company they HAVE TO provide for those that DON'T want to work.

      I'll take a republican anytime....they represent christian values more than any dem.crat or liberal I've ever seen."


      And here I was thinking that your bible advocating for taking care of the poor and sick. Guess I must have misread that part.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • CW

      @ Stevie7

      you say:

      And here I was thinking that your bible advocating for taking care of the poor and sick. Guess I must have misread that part.


      I say:

      Okay let me address the bible DOES advocate taking care of those that are poor who can't physically or emotionally take care of themselves....I would for one stand for any program that assists in this b/c let's face it...per the Bible we are to help each other right? What I don't stand for is these people that use and abruse the system and the wonderful de.mocrats & liberals just want to keep feeding it our money. Even in the book of Psalms it talks about being lazy and how you will be hungry b/c of this.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @CW: You said, "What I don't stand for is these people that use and abruse the system and the wonderful de.mocrats & liberals just want to keep feeding it our money."

      Ok, so how do we fix it? Or are you suggesting we just get rid of the system entirely and hope that people give charitably, and in great enough amounts to actually help people?

      August 12, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  20. Civiloutside

    "The more a society becomes secular, the more the rich men become powerful."

    Why, that sounds like an actual, testable claim. I love those! Let's check it out!

    This may seem awkward, owing to the filter's dislike of allowing multiple urls. Anyway, googling "most secular nation," and "income disparity by country." grab the wiki article that gets returned for each search. Now... Try comparing the Ration of incomes between the richest 10% versus the poorest 10% in each nation to the ranking of each nation by percentage of people who believe in god. Now compare versus the percent who say they don't. Excel is your friend here, because you can ge it to graph the results and even give you a trendline.

    The result? There is a slight positive correspondence between the R10% and religious belief, and a slight negative correspondence between the R10% and lack or religious belief. In other words, income inequalities have a *slight* tendency to be greater in more religious countries. It's a weak correspondence in either case, though, which kind of suggests that other cultural and legal factors are far more important than the societies' religiosity. In either case, Rainer's claim is clearly wrong.

    I should note that I only used European nations since they were conveniently ranked in one of the articles, and European believers are more likely to be Christian (thus more likely to be relevant to Rainer's Christian leanings).

    August 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.