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A series of recent polls suggest that the Republican presidential primary will come down to two governors with great hair and solid executive experience. The crucial difference? One is Mormon.Although he has not yet entered the race, the latest Gallup poll shows Texas Gov. Rick Perry closing in on frontrunner Mitt Romney. At Intrade, Perry has overtaken Romney as the most likely candidate to win the Republican nomination.
Perry’s surge is evidence of his appeal to conservative Christian voters, a major GOP voting bloc. The Texas Republican recently told the Des Moines Register he feels “called” to run for president.
Perry is not the only White House hopeful to ramp up the religious rhetoric. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann has also said she feels a divine “calling” to run, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has touted his evangelical beliefs.
But neither candidate has demonstrated Perry’s ability to energize the evangelical base. As we have written, Perry’s Christian prayer rally, The Response, has galvanised a national network of extreme evangelical Christians — the same network that vaulted former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to the national political stage.
This evangelical movement, known as the New Apostolic Reformation, has put its growing political influence behind Perry, who they see as a “godly leader.”
“Pray for your Governor…for I desire to use him and raise him up. Pray for his protection and for those around him, for all that concerns him in this critical hour, for he is Mine. For such a time as this I will position and use him according to My desire, so get behind him and pray daily. He is a key player in the shift that must take place.”
The New Apostles have a serious problem with Mormonism, which they consider a social scourge. Consequently, if the Texas Governor enters the race, Romney will likely face attacks against his Mormon faith from Perry’s 50-state network of “prayer warriors.”
Concern about the religious right’s power to derail Romney’s campaign is underscored in an article today in The Deseret News, a Salt Lake City newspaper owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The piece questions whether Perry’s alignment with the Religious Right will hurt him in a general election campaign, quoting religion and political science scholars who say Perry’s evangelical strategy could backfire.
One professor, Shaun Casey, an expert on religion in presidential politics, notes the difference between Perry’s and President George W. Bush’s relationship with the evangelical movement:
“Bush’s brilliance with the religious right was that he did everything behind closed doors. There were no photo-ops, there were no press releases saying I met reverend so and so today…so there was no public trail of him reaching out to the religious right. The irony is that here comes along Perry, the dollar-general-store version of Bush, and here he is meeting with these people in public and you start looking at the line up of the people he’s cozying up to in public and all he is doing is setting himself up for trouble later on if by some miracle he actually wins the nomination … Some of these guys are really beyond the fringe — folks who George Bush would have never been caught dead with within a hundred miles of.”
In the end, however, the article concedes that while Romney “may be the strongest opponent against President Obama,” his Mormon faith could stop him from getting past the primaries.
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