Perry prayer rally puts 2012 prospect in spotlight
HOUSTON (AP) — Though not yet a declared candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is putting his faith under the national spotlight as a White House prospect with an important conservative constituency all to himself.
He's addressing a daylong prayer rally Saturday that he has spearheaded while weighing a campaign for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
Perry says the event is not political but rather aimed at rallying the nation to a Christian unity during difficult times, but he will be reaching thousands of religious conservatives, many of whom vote in Republican primaries, especially in early voting states Iowa and South Carolina.
More than 8,000 evangelical Christians, most from Texas, had registered as of Friday to attend the event at Reliant Stadium, which seats 71,500 and was the site of the 2004 Super Bowl. Organizers said they expected thousands more than that to show up.
Perry's midday speech will reach thousands of social-values conservatives, but he's not expected to take questions from reporters covering the religious rally.
"The questions are all going to be political, and that would just take away from the event," Perry spokesman Mark Miner said.
More than 1,000 churches around the country plan to stream the seven-hour event on the Internet.
"With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God's help," Perry said in a June video when he announced the event, which is being called The Response USA. "That's' why I'm calling on Americans to pray and fast, like Jesus did and as God called the Israelites to do in the book of Joel."
The rally is financed by The American Family Association, a Tupelo, Miss.-based group that opposes abortion and gay rights and believes that the First Amendment freedom of religion applies only to Christians.
Although Perry invited all the nation's governors, members of Congress and the Obama administration, it was not clear whether any top elected officials besides Perry would attend. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback had said he would attend, although event organizers said Friday it was unclear whether the Republican governor would be there.
Perry, who has said he is considering a presidential run in part out of a religious calling, is expected to announce his plans sometime after Saturday's event. He plans to travel to South Carolina the following Saturday, when several of the declared Republican candidates for president will be in Ames, Iowa, for that state's presidential straw poll, a closely watched test of campaign strength in the leadoff caucus state.
Some Republican strategists have said Perry would be better off to identify himself as a fiscal conservative, touting Texas' recent job gains, as he approaches a decision that could shake up the race. Nodding to evangelical voters before entering the race could send the signal he's not the pro-business conservative some activists have said is lacking in the 2012 GOP field.
"He doesn't need to bow to the Christian right because he already has his bona fides there," said Iowa Republican Doug Gross, who was a top backer of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 2008 campaign but has been cool to support him again.
And it's not clear that the event will even help Perry with Christian voters.
Pastor Cary Gordon of Sioux City's Cornerstone World Outreach church said his church will likely webcast the event, although Gordon, an influential GOP activist in Iowa, does not plan to support Perry.
Gordon said he objects to Perry's comments, in light of New York's legalization of gay marriage in June, that the state had the right to enact such measures.
"All of our rights come from God," Gordon said. "Rick Perry becomes the poster child for the problem because he is suggesting men grant men rights."