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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. Daniel

    Very scary prospect...Perry as President. Can't believe that Texans were so stupid as to elect him so many times.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Gabe in TX

      I count myself in the smart minority of Texans that tried desperately to vote that pathetic excuse of a person, no count leader out of office. But clearly the majority of Texans were easily fooled by his charm & religious bs. I want him out of Texas but not this way that's for sure...

      August 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  2. JES

    Always be wary of the "holier than thou" and the person who picks up stones, it always cloaks the dark side. Texas is suffering from the worst drought in recorded history and now a plague of grasshoppers. All you need is frogs and the Rio Grande to turn red. Remind you of something??

    August 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  3. John

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig

    August 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  4. The Right's Right

    We have a chance for Govenor Rick "jesus" Parry to lead us out of the sinful oasis of the papists and heathens.
    We can be taken to the the cusp of the b0s0m of Mary the mother of all reformed h00kers.
    We can be saved at the altar of the H0ly Spirit. Texass can lead the way so we don't become socialists.

    GOD WANTS RICK PARRY!!

    August 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Cygnus XI

      I want you to SPELL HIS NAME CORRECTLY! It is Perry.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  5. Gabe in TX

    Can someone please tell me whatever happened to separating church from state??? This horrible governor of ours has never been more transparent! First the prayer meeting in Houston. And since attendance was decent he decides to run for President. I thought this country stood for freedom of religion & freedom from religion. Keep digging on Perry CNN. If you want some good controversial dirt, start looking up his Trans Texas Corridor debacle. You'll see his connection to Rudy Giuliani & then understand why Perry supported his Presidential attempt. Giuliani's law firm represented Cintra-Zachry, also known as the company that wanted to butcher over 500,000 acres of Texas land for Perry's super highway that failed epically here & earned Perry a million plus enemies....

    August 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Cygnus XI

      Separation of Church and State has been blurred by the Christian Right (Teavangellicals) into something that it isn't. They love to cite the letter from Thomas jefferson and say it was him expressing that Government will never take over religion, when it clearly means both ways. It is an example of people being either to lazy or to stupid to bother to do research for themselves. Hence the popularity of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hanity, and Crane Durham.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  6. Gumby

    I am SO tired of politicians pandering to the immoral Christer Right. Is there anything about Texas that isn't retarded? Rhetorical question.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  7. Dante Orlando Brown

    Please post in all honesty: what do you dislike about Christians. I am a Christian, and I really would like some feedback from those who dislike Christians. Is it Christians, or is it Christianity?

    August 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Gumby

      Both. An immoral religion breeds immoral adherents.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Cygnus XI

      It is not Christians, so to speak, nor Christianity. It is the fact that so many call themselves Christians and then try to force it on others and insinuate that any who are not are somehow not to be trusted, living in sin, doing evil things, etc...... I was a Christian, I enjoyed the acceptance and the love part, however I quickly saw the hypocrisy in the actions of the other Christians. It became a "We are far better than them" club. If you are a true Christian, listen to Crane Durham on AFR Talk Radio for a week, and then tell me if you agree with them. If you do, you are clearly not a Christian.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  8. frank

    I hope he gets elected just so I can see all of your heads burst in frustration.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Gumby

      This is the hatred and ignorance of Christianity.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  9. The Right's Right

    We have a chance for Govenor Rick "jesus" Parry to lead us out of the sinful oasis of the papists and heathens.
    We can be taken to the the cusp of the b0s0m of Mary the mother of all reformed h00kers.
    We can be saved at the altar of the H0ly Spirit. Texass can lead the way so we don't become socialists.

    GOD WANTS RICK PARRY!!

    August 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  10. jay

    Obama 2012!

    August 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • george

      If voters had to pass an IQ test, Obama would have never been elected in the first place. Lucky for Obama most of the country now consists of unemployed and/or uneducated voters who actually believe what CNN and MSNBC have to say.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  11. Janet Fischer

    Just wondering why Perry wasn't holding a prayer vigil when all the teachers were being escorted out of the schools with their walking papers. Where was his outpouring of faith then? I live in Texas and have seen first hand the damage he and his predecessor has inflicted on this great state. Do your research folks – not saying we have to re-elect Obama, but we can sure as heck do better than this phoney bleep hole.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Janet Fischer

      Just wondering why Perry wasn't holding a prayer vigil when all the teachers were being escorted out of the schools with their walking papers. Where was his outpouring of faith then? I live in Texas and have seen first hand the damage he and his predecessor has inflicted on this great state. Do your research folks – not saying we have to re-elect Obama, but we can sure as heck do better than this phoney bleep hole.

      ----
      The guy with the magic underoos is a better choice.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  12. Zach

    Great, someone who believes in the non-existing, invisible, magical faerie in the sky...just might as well believe in Unicorns.
    Most religious politicians only use religion to fool the rubes into voting for them or just giving them money.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Guest

      Precise, to the point, and accurate! Oh if only the 'Rapture' had been real and had taken all these blithering idiots away so rational people could clean up the mess these 'believers' have made of this country!

      August 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  13. Jose G

    The idea of a "Christian Right" is the reason I don't vote Republican.
    Separation of Church and State anybody?
    I would vote for Ron Paul however.
    Otherwise, my vote will be Libertarian.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Count me in

      August 12, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  14. John

    There's one word for Gov. Perry: FRAUD!! Ask how many of his Texas co-horts really like him. Many in the Texas repthuglican party can't stand him. We already had one texan who thought God placed him in the presidency and look where this got us.. in the poor house with massive debt. No one in the world has a bigger ego than Gov. Perry and this "run" for th The Whitehouse is only an excercise in stroking his own ego. He so well loved in Texas that he couldn't even make his announcement to be pres. in Texas. He had to go to North Carolina!!!!!!! Now THAT says everything. It looks like another four years for Pres. Obama at this rate.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  15. Jeremy

    I'm still interested to more about Perry. The stomping and debates will tell...Even as a Christian conservative, I am wary about throwing my support behind someone until he/she has had ample opportunity to speak on all the issues. We should all just listen to his own words before supporting or opposing him. This is fair.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Denise

      No, it isn't fair. What about all the Americans who are not christian? Who's going to represent those of us who do not believe in Santa Claus or an invisible man in the clouds?

      August 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Gabe in TX

      I'll tell you more about Perry. A few years ago he snuck legislation in during one of the Texas voting seasons & tried to use that to ram the Trans Texas Corridor down our throats. The TTC would have been a super highway both toll & free (supposedly), there would be 8 rail lines & utility pipes alongside it. This was a useless unnecessary thing for Texas. But Perry was getting kickbacks from Cintra-Zachry, a company from Spain to push it through. They would have controlling interest in the tollway that would have destroyed over 500,000 acres of Texas land & displaced millions using Eminent Domain. It took a long time & lots of protesting but we managed to stop it from happening. He's a smooth liar who thrives on misdirection. Only 39% of Texans reelected him last time, earning him the popular nickname Governor 39%. He's no good, & if by some tragedy becomes President I'm moving to Australia.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  16. DAW, NC

    Lets spin where he stands and what he has said/done in the past. Lets take America back to the social dark ages, where business owned towns and people, yes he definitely fits with the GOP.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  17. Emmy Skaddittle

    The more extreme the better for President Obama, this guy is pretty close to be a taliban

    August 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Emmy Skaddittle

      The more extreme the better for President Obama, this guy is pretty close to be a taliban

      ----–
      Actually the evangelicals as a whole are like the taliban.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Joey

      You should really just call him a na*z*i because it's about the same degree of hyperbole. And a lame attempt at demonizing. Most people stop listening to an argument when it gets to that level, lol.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  18. Soulsnagger

    Heaven forbid that we elect someone who believes that people should work to support themselves instead of taking food out of the mouths of my children. Heaven forbid that we elect a person of faith rather than someone who thinks there is no God so it is okay to do whatever seems right in our own eyes. Heaven forbid that we elect a person who would rather put money into productive people and businesses than people who won't even try to take care of themselves. Heaven forbid that we elect someone who doesn't want to force young healthy people to join a healthcare plan so that the unemployed can get their doctor's bills paid for them. We wouldn't want this country to be great again. Much better to slide into third world status while letting other countries make our decisions for us.

    If you want to continue going the way Obama has planned for us – perhaps you should just move to France. the rest of us would like to have a chance to save the country.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • DAW, NC

      what planet are you from, I am glad that you do not let facts or reality get in front of your hate and bigotry.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      You have to laugh at some of these delusional nuts

      August 12, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • TomPaine32

      Heaven forbid we elect another right wing idealogue.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • desi

      Heaven (if there is one) forbid that we elect someone who believes that poor people do not need basic human rights or a basic standard of living. Heaven forbid that we elect a person who believes world was created in 6 days and that our rules should be based on whatever it says in the Bible. Heaven forbid that we elect a person who would rather give tax break to a multi-millionaire so he can go to Switzerland on a vacation in his private jet, but not to poor people who have to choose between buying food for themselves or buying medicine for their sick children. Heaven forbid that we elect someone who thinks that in the richest country in the world, it's ok that 20% people can't afford medical treatment when they need it.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Denise

      It's ignorant people like you who scare the crap out of me.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  19. Larry L

    The Christian right-wing wants a guy with a very dubious reputation for gay behavior? He should just "man-up" to his inclinations and approach politics more honestly.

    August 12, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  20. dofacc

    Doesn't he also have some pretty significant connections to people that want Texas to secede from the rest of us? This may or may not be factual, but a lot of people think this. If he is determined to destroy the Nation, why would I vote or otherwise support him?

    August 12, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • conscience4

      It is absolutely factual that Perry has publically threatened to secede Texas from the Union. I am a Texas resident, and when he was calling for secession in a speech, I was wondering how I was going to sell my house and leave the state in this economy if he accomplished his threat. He said it, he meant it!

      August 12, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      conscience4

      It is absolutely factual that Perry has publically threatened to secede Texas from the Union. I am a Texas resident, and when he was calling for secession in a speech, I was wondering how I was going to sell my house and leave the state in this economy if he accomplished his threat. He said it, he meant it!

      -------
      Actually it might not be a bad idea... The Christian Taliban could migrate there.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • frank

      I'm from Texas and, BTW, we have no need for you crazy northerners. We have more of what a nation needs to be great than 95% of the nations in the world.

      You know what would scare you liberals even more than secession? We DO have the right to spit the state into 5 states - each with 2 votes in the senate. And there isn't a darn thing you Yankees could do to stop it.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:18 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.