Perry's evangelical appeal

Republicans had a big weekend between the Iowa Straw Poll and the announcement from Texas Gov. Rick Perry that he's running for President. Rep. Michele Bachman won Iowa, making her the first female to achieve that feat. But what about fellow evangelical Perry? Perry is a long-time governor of a large state, but the Washington, D.C.-centric political media is only beginning to cover him. Most of the religion coverage thus far has been around the prayer event Perry hosted last week where evangelicals gathered to pray for the country.

CNN's Dan Gilgoff had a fresher angle with his story about Perry entering the race:

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.

The story focuses on relationships. We're told that Perry and his circle have systematically reached out to religious leaders. Religious leaders have also reached out to him, underwhelmed by the current options:

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.”

The article gives specific information about why Christian conservatives might support Perry, including pro-life legislation he's signed as governor.

The article explains why some activists are supporting Perry for pragmatic reasons. It's not that they think he's particularly better on the issues than certain other candidates so much that he's got broader appeal to voters who aren't motivated by social issues.

Here's how the Romney issue is handled:

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.

Too often reporters boil down the above complaints into "anti-Mormon bias" which omits the social and economic concerns. And while I'm sure there is anti-Mormon bias among some voters, that is much more difficult to substantiate than the simple "failure to connect," which seems a more accurate way to put it.

In any case, this report was thorough, explanatory and a nice introduction to the relationship between Perry and evangelicals.

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