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. SurRy

    Why is this nation becoming a sack of wingnuts?

    August 12, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • gassy pants

      What a lunatic comment. You're a wingnut!!

      August 12, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • ooohhhhmmmmmm

      you're a towel.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  2. john316

    I'm still disappointed that the "Huckster" isn't running.....but who can afford to lose a Fox paycheck nowadays....anyway...Mr. Perry is code for Elmer Gantry or Grand Wizard....can't decide just yet...my family was from Texas and they all love the Klan down there.....Mr. Romney, who seems almost rational, except for the "religion" part, hasn't got a chance with the Christian Right......

    August 12, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Matt

      Why don't we ignore religion and just pick somone that will protect our borders and keep taxes low. Period! Leave the rest to the states.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  3. Tal

    The GOP is doomed until they kick the Christian reconstructionists to the curb. There are plenty of fiscally conservative independents and democrats out there who would vote for a true fiscal conservative party.

    Instead the Republicans run these theocrats who think we should solve problems by all praying to their specific, biggoted, version of Jesus. Stop letting the religious right dominate the Republican party. Simply the act of pandering to them during the primary makes any GOP candidate virtually unelectable in the general election when the moderate majority recoils in disgust.

    August 12, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  4. Matt

    Perry is another Washington insider. All he is doing right now is trying to make bridges with the Tea Party and Christians. Funny how he wasn't doing this 2 years ago......

    Folks will do anything to be president.

    August 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Matt

      Oh..and by the way...I have been in Texas and active in politics for 20 years. Perry was never doing ANY of this until recently. Don't be scammed America!!

      August 12, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • ooohhhhmmmmmm

      Matt, you're talking to people who interpret the bible literally... there is no reasoning with these people. they are like rabid dogs with a taste for rational human blood. the tea party is a reactionary force to majority consensus. they will obstruct anything that the majority of Americans want and they will win because they have the ability to organize almost %100 voter turnout. Liberals and independents can not compete. The republican party has unleashed upon us all this force to be reckoned with and until the propaganda smear campaigns end within the republican party we will see nothing but looney tunes elected to office.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Matt

      ???? I'm a Christian and believe the literal truths of the Bible. But no-where in the Bible does it say hold a gun to people's head to make them become Christians. Nor does it say kill non-Christians. Nor does it say use the government to force others to do as I believe. Nor does it say to be so dang stupid to vote for people that just 'happen' to have become devout Christains when they are running for president. Thus my warning above. Perry is a fake.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  5. Iconoclast

    Hmm, maybe I was wrong about being an atheist. Here stands the Antichrist about to run for prez.

    August 12, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • prideglory

      I was thinking the same thing.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  6. Salty Bob

    In the beginning man created the gods

    The following is to show some of what I think of organized religion. I hope you gleam a small bit of useful information as I have. What games religion is playing in America and the world today? We live in a rare time and country where the we can choose for ourselves how much or little Religion we want in our lives, but the followers of most religions just don’t understand the word no! Not in my life not in my schools not in my government, NO! is choice I have made for me and my family, the following reasons are part of the problem as I see it.

    First: religion is in no way real. The word religion or god is nothing more than an expression or product of human fear and weaknesses or imagination in some cases. The Bible/Koran, a collection of ancient myths and stories borrowed or from many different cultures over hundreds of centuries or more. Sadly the followers of Christianity, Islam, and others want to make decisions for us all based on there interpretation of books that are in no way real. These groups are working hard and spending millions trying to influence our politicions to pass laws based on there interpretation of these books. Trying to convert the USA into a religious state. I hope to never see any religions icon on our flag, then would be a good time to leave.

    Second: Religion no longer has a place in the real world. It divides us as a people to choose ignorance over logic, to forsake the future for a ruthless past. A Wall of Separation is supposed to protect us from all religion’s infringement upon our school’s teachings of science to find real truth and knowledge. Not to pass fariy tales our children of some aged dogma from an era long dead, our children deserve more

    Many of these groups place supernatural abilities on some of its members, born of a virgin or walk on water or cure the blind sick or to fly. Throughout history you will find many who have claimed the same feats, and and more they are all wrong. No interpretation no matter how subtle can change the fact there all made up stories nothing more.

    Religion, as an idea has been with us before recorded history from the early man’s worshiping of nature to Charlemagne’s murder of the innocent in the name of Christianity, to jets crashing into towers in the name of Islam. Coerced observance is the main method almost all religions operate. Worship me or you will be tortured for all eternity or murdered out right. Fear mongering, Coercion is tyranny! Remember the Dark Age’s religions rule in that dark, distant past didn’t serve our ancestors well it certainly won’t serve us any better today! These are the labels I wear proudly heretic, infidel.

    Third: We put our trust in our elected officials to maintain a wall of separation, to prevent religion’s ever reaching grasp from tainting the consideration of new laws, as well as research designed to help many! This country was not founded on the rule of any ones religion, but more the lack of religious influence in the governing of this country. But time and again you hear overtones religion spouting out of our leaders like some kind of profit. The time for the burning of witches, belief in a flat earth, the murdering of doctors, and crimes against children and women or religions many other immoral and vile acts committed against humanity as a whole can no longer and should no longer be tolerated no matter what religion calls for it or what gods demands it.

    People of good conscience ban together and help bring to this country this world into the 21st century with all the promise it has to offer and not vote for anyone like Rick Perry who want to take us back to a time where freethought is a crime and not following thier way can lead to your death.


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

      I couldn't agree more. These people want to impose their own "cristian sharia" on the rest of us. This is the american taliban, no doubt about it.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Josephine

      Thank You for your refreshing take on religion in this country and why it has no place in politics. I'm with you all the way!

      August 12, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  7. sameeker

    Bu$h pretty well sewed me up on politicians from Texas. I wonder if perry would have the corporations pay their ten percent at church? He would probably exempt them had have everybody else pay more to cover them.

    August 12, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  8. Fuyuko

    Perry is too liberal on illegal immigration. He is pro-amnesty. Won't vote for him. He's another George Bush.

    August 12, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  9. jon

    The bag-of-hammers Republican voters (like those in Ohio who held hands together and prayed skyward – and then voted to
    push G. W. over the top in 2004) will probably do the same in 2012. However, just after that election, Ohio lost tens of thousands of good manufacturing jobs with company after company closing. I hope they still have their hands together in the bread line.

    August 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Working Joe

      This time around the republicans will make sure there is no bread line.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  10. gassy pants

    Any1 smell that?

    August 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  11. Christ

    Parry is the perfect candidate. We need a President who will obey God, and pray sincerely whenever we are faced with a national crisis. Parry will follow the teachings of Jesus and ensure that all the poor are fed, that the rich give up their wealth, that everyone gets healed by his own hand, and that the poor and the meek inherit America. Good luck Parry!

    August 12, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • jon

      You don't even know how to spell his name. It is Perry – not Parry.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • /surRy

      It's obvious you don't, but perhaps Christ watches the Colbert Report! LOL!

      August 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Matt


      August 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Josephine

      If PERRY, not PARRY, was concerned about the poor, he would give his millions away–last count has his net worth at $2.7 million. There is NO Republican in this country that cares anything about the poor–all they want is to impose their will on everyone else and give tax breaks to themselves and their rich friends.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • J.W

      You should think about voting democrat if you want those things done.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  12. AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!


    August 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!


      August 12, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Steve - Dallas

      ...what he said,

      August 12, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  13. gassy pants


    August 12, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • poopy pants

      Me too! Meet ya in there

      August 12, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • jon

      Is something trickling down your pants – like Reagan's "trickle down" theory??

      August 12, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Saved byHIM

      There is only one Savior. JESUS. Until HE returns this world is going to become more and more fallen everyday,no matter the person elected to the presidency.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Steve - Dallas

      Yeah, great, whatever. But in the meantime, do we really need a lowbrow like Guv Goodhair running the country?

      August 12, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  14. Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

    The candidate who is radical enough to win the Republican nomination is WAY too radical to win the presidency.

    August 12, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  15. ron4152

    Praise Jesus! Maybe Rickie can pray away the deficit. Is this how Iran fell to the religious crazies?

    August 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Calvin

      No its not, but thanks for sounding like a fool.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • jon

      Actually, I think it is. The Moola moola's.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  16. jkINC

    I'm sure prayer will do wonders to reduce the deficit and create jobs.

    August 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  17. Stephen

    Obama goes to church...a rather odd one at that. Why doesn't CNN run constant stories on his religious beliefs? Again, CNN is just short of state-run media

    August 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • jon

      Who cares who goes to church?? What a crock.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • ooohhhhmmmmmm

      stephen, cnn prints what newsreaders around the world are interested in reading. No one cares about Obama's religion because he doesn't throw it in our faces like the conservatives here. Rick Perry would like to pray our problems away and apparently believes he can. You and others like you need a heavy blow to the head in order to jumpstart your brains. Currently there is nothing going on up there...

      August 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Sean

      Did you miss the entire lead up to the 2008 Election? Obama's religious beliefs were all over the news.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics


      Obama goes to church...a rather odd one at that. Why doesn't CNN run constant stories on his religious beliefs? Again, CNN is just short of state-run media
      Obama doesn't grand stand his religion like the evangelicals. Perrys followers get orgasmic when he says he is going to pray.

      August 12, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  18. mE


    Rep'n that Lone Star State!

    August 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  19. Joel

    Stopped reading at the part where the religious leader liked Parry because he.... what did he do again? Must have been political. Oh, and if Parry wins it, FML.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Joel

      Don't correct my spelling either. I prefer Colbert's spelling.

      August 12, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  20. Tex71

    If the GOP (and the Christian Right in particular) are hoping for a candidate who is able to flim-flam those voters ignorant enough, or desperate enough, to support a platform of deception against their own interests anad for the benefit of the super-wealthy and the corporate sector; if they are looking for someone to lead the assault on whatever is left of an American Dream for the American people (even though non-millionaires don't qualify as really American in the GOP's eyes); then Rick Perry is probably their man. Corruption and greed over human decency and true national greatness: Rick Perry for President! Low-paying jobs and dwindling opportunity, vote Republican!
    Good thing they don't stand a chance in 2012.

    August 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Nursehope

      2 Days ago I heard an interview with his ex-aid: Perry only recently took on the "Votes-for-Jesus" persona. There was no hint of it when he held lower political offices. You hit the nail on the cross Tex71, the bag-of-hammers-fool voters who buy this snake oil salesman's ACT deserve what they get.

      August 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
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About this blog

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.