[credit provider=”Flickr Gage Skidmore” url=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/5854805421/”]
With Texas Gov. Rick Perry set to throw his Stetson into the 2012 presidential ring this weekend, the question on everyone’s mind is: “Can Perry win the Republican nomination?”We talked to Houston evangelical leader Doug Stringer, the man responsible for coordinating national church mobilization for “The Response,” the 30,000-person prayer rally Perry hosted at Reliant Stadium last weekend.
Stringer gave us some insight into Perry’s relationship with born-again Christians — a key voting bloc that makes up nearly 50% of the GOP primary vote.
To begin with, Stringer said The Response was a great success, surpassing even the leadership team’s expectations.
“For one thing, it was very multi-denominational, multi-generational, a lot of ethnicities were there, and the focus was not on any individual man,” he said. “I spoke to a lot of people and they were very surprised by the way the day went, by the posture of humility. Even though it was a Christian gathering, we prayed for everybody, even those who may not agree with us.”
Stringer said he largely attributes those positive reactions to the fact that, despite Gov. Perry’s involvement, the prayer rally remained “apolitical,” as its organisers had promised.
“I was actually thinking that if it was 70% pure I would be happy, but most people were so pleased and pleasantly surprised over the way it happened,” he said. “The Governor [Perry] and Gov. Brownback didn’t have preeminence, they read Scripture and they prayed, and they prayed in such a way of humility that they prayed for others who may not agree politically with them.”
By leaving politics out of The Response, Perry formed a bond with the evangelical community that no other 2012 Republican presidential candidate has, at least on such a large scale: He earned their respect.
“I think by him not saying anything [political], that shows he kept his word,” Stringer said. “I think if he had said something, he would have totally lost any equity with anybody. By not doing anything, even those that don’t ever vote for him, those that don’t agree with his politics, they can say ‘you know what, we can pray for that guy, and he went up a notch in my book.'”
As we have previously written, Rick Perry — and his stadium prayer rally — has put Michele Bachmann and other socially conservative 2012 candidates on the defensive as they court the evangelical vote. Perry has already established his social conservative bona fides, and can now go after GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney on an issue that matters to a much broader spectrum of Republicans (including born-again Christians) — jobs.
Stringer said he hasn’t yet formed an opinion about the 2012 Republican candidates. But he did add:
“If we are going to see change and we are going to move forward in the midst of a crisis, we need leaders who are willing to sit down with everybody, even people who disagree, because they love people more than they love themselves. That’s what’s going to be key.”
With The Response, Perry signaled that he might be the leader Stringer and other evangelical Republican voters are looking for.