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. jaycee3

    The christian right already has a disproportionate amount of influence in american politics. I think they're the biggest threat to american freedom we've ever known. They don't need a savior, they need a keeper.

    August 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  2. Ben

    I remember when the Rev. Wright stuff came out, CNN's question was "is this important" not is Obama a militant anti-white Christian even with what Wright has said. Why is the reverse standard always used IMMEDIATELY for the conservative candidates?

    August 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Peace2All

      Hmm... I don't know, maybe you should go to 'Fox News' for their "fair and balanced" take on things.


      August 12, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Omega737

      Excellent point Ben. That fact the Obama regularly attended and supported a completely bigoted "church" doesn't matter to the Obamatons. They will just line up like sheeple, ignore reality, and attempt to undermine anyone that doesn't adhere to the beliefs of their "messiah". Oh they are so progressive and tolerant. I'd give the entertainment factor of their posts a solid A+!

      August 12, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • felicia

      i wonder why a militant anti-white president chose a white secretary of state, and other white cabinet members. it's also baffling that he dearly loved the white grandmother who raised him.

      and don't forget that he's a socialist, fascist, nazi.......and doesn't he look like the joker in batman?

      August 12, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  3. Omega737

    LOVE IT! CNN has given the left someone else to hate, now that Palin, Bachman, Nordquist, etc. have served their purpose. And exactly on cue the liberals come with their derogatory comments just like Pavlov's dogs foaming at the mouth!

    August 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • jack johnson

      If he is so relegous how can he be PRESiDENT? As comander-in-chief he will be required to send our troops into battle. thus breaking one of GOD'S laws (thou shalt not kill) He is aligning himself wit so many obligations he want be able to serve the people (NORQEST, BIG OIL , CORP>, and now religious nuts

      August 12, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Omega737

      Thanks Jack...I forgot to include big oil and evil corporations in my post. Pull out your talking points cheat sheet and add a few more for me. Thanks.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • felicia

      just because we dislike the idea of a far right religious fanatic at the helm of this country, it does not mean he is hated. there's a big difference between fear for this country – another george w who consults jesus before causing countless deaths? – and hatred. there might even be contempt, because some of us value this country's principle of separation of church and state. why contempt? well, radical islamists who practice jihad have the same passion for religious doctrine that guides governing bodies. they consider themselves "true believers" and so, no doubt, do you.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  4. ltanyaalvrz

    I'm so I'll of jesus this and jesus that ...for all you "Christians" please tell me how do you know jesus exists? Is it because of some book that has been modified over and over for thousands of years says so , and beyond your biblical ignorance have you even bothered to learn the many truths that have been discovered about the truths of jesus ? Did you even know "fact" that there are ancient texts that were purposley removed from the bible by the church? If you wanna know why go find out... How do you know rick perry is GOD's chosen savior?? All of a sudden christians know what god wants lol. Ugh it just sickens me. Truth be told my southern texas friend tolld me she would only vote for perry if he's christian get this her daughters married befored wedlock her youngest son is in jail since was 13 and and her other son joined the army because he didn't know what to do with himself yep that's the christian way!!! Go rick perry!

    August 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Omega737

      Question for you. Do you realize that you are just as intolerant as the those that you seem to enjoy speaking derogatory of? Probably not, because I have the feeling that such a concept is completely beyond your ability to comprehend.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  5. JES

    " C and D student, who hates to govern, loves to campaign, and barely has a sixth grader's understanding of economics, will lead our nation into oblivion." –James Moore
    Great, electing Perry is like getting a pediatrician for your kids who barely made it through school.
    James Moore, by the way, is a Texan, Emmy award winning journalist. He knows a faker when he sees one. Perry is Elmer Gantry, snake oil salesman using God as a ploy. You see, when a con man uses God in his scam, you can't argue with him or you're called a heathen and every emotional wingnut around you will implode. You can't have any differing opinions, that's why he is so dangerous. Remember the Pharisees in the New Testament? Holier than thou and stoned anyone who disagreed. One man did and they eventually crucified him.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Pete

      Amen! (Pun intented) All too often those incapable of supporting a coherent argument wrap themselves in god or the flag to make themselves unassailable. Politics is about intelligent compromise. There can be no compromise when one side insists that theirs is the will of god.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  6. Raven

    Why not, the Left considers Obama to be the Messiah.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • matt

      Wrong. A messiah is supposed to save you and do everything. Only Christian, Muslim, Jewish people are that lazy that they won't take responsibility for their actions and put it all on someone else real or imaginary.

      Don't litter, minimize pollution, learn to help the poor instead of hoarding, support education, do your part to minimize fossil fuel dependency and to help us get out of the cesspool called the Middle East where they don't like us.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  7. Dave

    In the book "A River Runs Through it", the central character (a Preacher) says that Baptists are simply uneducated Methodists. Looks like the book is correct.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  8. J.W

    I live in Texas but I have not lived here a long time. The economy is pretty good where I live, but I am sure it is not that way throughout Texas and it is not because of Perry. And there are huge budget problems here. I am sure that is something he will have to answer for.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Dallas is on me and the wife's list of potential cities to move.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • J.W

      That is where I live.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      We live in Phoenix now and I was born in AZ. We moved to Vegas for 5 years(DO NOT MISS IT) moved back the state has turned into a toxic hate filled state. Messed up politicians, corrupt sheriff and knee jerk laws. It is not the place I remember nor wish to stay in. It is sad because I love Arizona. Portland is another option. I have clients in Dallas as well. Downfall it is as hot as Phoenix but the humidity is high.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • J.W

      Yeah the heat is what I have to most trouble with I think. And in the winter when it is like 70 I am like I wish it was 10 or 20 right now. When I am doing Christmas shopping I should have to wear a winter coat lol.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Also it appears Dallas might be good in the respect to The Arts.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  9. ltanyaalvrz

    Rick perry is the devil he's a business man before he's a christian , what's sad is I'm sure anyone who is christian will vote for rick perry because he is christian please someone tell me when and how does religion of any kind give jobs to people , boost the failing educationsystem , stops outsourcing our jobs? Really? Rick perry is a modern day confederate and this country is done with the "White Man" conservative and confederate ways or should I say racists, he's counting on "CHRISTIANS" to bring him to the polls how saf when this country was intended for all religions and cultures I can recall some history here when my ANCESTORS lands were taken away by force and torture because they refused to give up teir land and convert to christianity in the name of being Christian how many lands and people have been taken over by force, it is a mistake to allow this man to win

    August 12, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  10. Big Johnny Super Republican

    Perry will bring the religious police into your government, towns and homes. He will put government in the pants of your wife, mother, daughter and tell her what she can and do with her on body.

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

    Palin, Trump, Bachman, now Perry... all great fun for the media that want to stir up controversy by showcasing the lunatic fringe. Thank heavens the vast majority of Americans, a pluralistic society, see these fanatics for what they are and will bury them along with right wing conservatism at the next election. An Elmer Gantry clone in the White House? Idiotic!

    August 12, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  12. independent

    I had to live in Texas I would go start raving insane. Please let them secede - along with Alabama, South Carolina, Missouri (except for St. Louis) and about half of Georgia. Please. Go.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  13. Jazzerguy

    Like Frank, Im from Texas too...and I say "be dbe very very araid. He's a weak governor in a weak governor state who is good at campaigning and not much else. Well, he is a friend of God.

    Texas, 44th in per capita sepending on education. And all about helping the wealthy and no on else. I happen to be wealthy. I just think we're killing the middle class at the risk of class warfare.

    better hope this guy doesnt get in.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  14. Big Johnny Super Republican

    Perry is an unelectable loonie. Texans may (or may not) love the guy, but NORMAL people will know he is an extremist thug. Guess what happens to these guys. They ALWAYS self destruct. Pretty funny to watch actually.

    Suk it Perry. Suk it.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  15. Al Stefanelli

    Do we REALLY want an adult with imaginary friends to be President? We need a leader of people in the White House, not a follower of an ancient, bronze-age Hebrew storm god.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • J.W

      Storm god? What are you talking about? And almost all of the recent presidents have been Christian.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Omega737

      Interesting. Obama considers himself a Christian. Does that mean that he also should not hold the office of President? Or, is it only those Christians that are right leaning that you think shouldn't hold the office of President? I await your...ummm...well reasoned reply. I have feeling I'm going to waiting a very long time.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  16. am7a

    The "Savior" is Jesus Christ, not a politician!

    August 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  17. TruthHurts

    Hey America, before you bash this guy...look at the idiot in office now!!! You cant afford for your dollar to drop anymore..you cant afford to not pay your troops while ur congress gets full pay/benefits/retirement with zero progress...You are SLOWLY becoming a joke and unless u wake up from your nightmare known as *Republicans vs Democrats* you will look around and realize you have nothing left.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  18. Michael

    12 million gays and lesbians of voting age and the difference between Obama and McCain last presidential election was just over 10 million votes in Obama's favor. And the GOP still throws that minority under the bus?

    August 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  19. MrPresidentFox

    Forcing your religion down everyone's throat as president is not representing the nation as a whole but rather that group that supported you and it will lead to an even bigger divide in politics as well as our nation; not only that, but we could see the dismantling of freedoms that are deemed "inappropriate or unnatural" to God, or in reality, just to the ruling party.

    A theocratic government will only lead to the destruction of freedom and a de facto dictatorship. Do not support any candidate who tries to shove God into politics for the sake of our nation.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Georgia in NW

      Absolutely right on the dangers of letting religious extremism take over the government. We are too far down that road already. I understand that not one one of the elected Tea Partiers believe in evolution, for starters. I'd be happy to learn differently. I defy anyone reading this to name me one "people-of-the-book" religiously -nspired empire in history that has not ended in a bloodbath for many people. We should be afraid, be very afraid.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  20. IamGOD


    August 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • TruthHurts

      Great to see the amusing Atheists in full form on the board again...lol!! Always amusing in that they dont believe in god or a god, but they let it affect there lives to the point that they post about it, and sue over it. Man, if I didnt believe in something, you better believe I wouldnt waste one minute of my life on something that didn't have any meaning 2 me 🙂

      August 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics


      August 12, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Steve


      Ten bucks says that if you lived in a predominately muslim or buddhist country you would be whistling a different tune. The reason we atheists speak out is because we're TIRED of hearing about the imaginary sky wizard that everyone harps on about, and we're finally asking them to please keep that nonsense to yourselves.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics


      Great to see the amusing Atheists in full form on the board again...lol!! Always amusing in that they dont believe in god or a god, but they let it affect there lives to the point that they post about it, and sue over it. Man, if I didnt believe in something, you better believe I wouldnt waste one minute of my life on something that didn't have any meaning 2 me

      Noted...okay open the gate...bring out the lions.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • GAW

      @ Steve Freedom of speech dictates that you take the good with the bad. So in the marketplace of ideas people can make up their own minds and not have someone make it up for them (Atheist or Christian) BTW I have as much concern over the Religious Right as I have over a group of Atheists who sue because a street in New York was named Seven in Heaven in honor of fire firefighters who dies on Sept 11.

      August 12, 2011 at 6:06 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.