From media mavens to grassroots activists, conservative Christian leaders have been heaping praise on presidential candidate Rick Perry, an early but important show of support from a vital GOP constituency.
Initially unimpressed with the 2012 presidential field, some of these evangelicals heralded Perry's late entry as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Like Reagan, they say, Perry is a big-state governor, a staunch conservative and, significantly, a fellow Christian.
Perry, in turn, has suffused his campaign with religion, building on strategies honed for years in Texas politics. He has huddled with social conservatives at a Texas retreat, hosted a high-profile Christian prayer rally in Houston and recited his prodigal-son spiritual testimony at the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.
On September 20, Perry said his Christian faith includes a "clear directive" to support Israel--a view shared by many evangelicals, who believe that God gave the land to the Jewish people. Early returns suggest that the Texas governor's efforts were paying off, particularly among elder evangelical statesmen:
* Donald E. Wildmon, founder and former head of the American Family Association, is endorsing Perry. The Mississippi-based AFA organized and spent $600,000 to finance Perry's prayer rally, called "The Response," and later it directed its 30,000 participants to a new Christian voter-registration campaign. "I think the overwhelming majority of what's often called the religious right will support the governor," said Wildmon, whose organization boasts a marling list of 60,000 pastors and operates 180 radio stations. "I'm going to do whatever I can to help the man get elected."
* Former Focus on the Family head James Dobson has gushed over Perry on his new radio show, calling him a "deeply committed Christian" and a courageous leader. Dobson helped organize The Response and reportedly will appear with Perry at an October event in Orlando.
* Liberty University chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. has mused that Perry could be another Reagan and called him "one of the most pro-life governors in American history." Falwell also said he admires the governor's "guts" for suggesting that Texas could secede from the union.
* Evangelical historian and activist David Barton, a longtime Perry ally, has circulated a 14-point defense of the governor's record on economic, social and immigration issues.
* Southern Baptist leader Richard Land has penned an op-ed that portrays Perry as shrewd, deeply conservative and a lifelong evangelical of "genuine" faith. (Perry's own account differs slightly. He says he was spiritually lost as a young man before turning to God at age 27.)
* Grassroots activist David Lane, who organized "pastor policy briefings" featuring Perry during his 2006 campaign for governor, is reportedly planning similar events in battleground states, including one in Florida this fall. Lane was finance chairman of The Response. …