Bud Kennedy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas –
Once, he led a prayer rally called The Response.
Now, Gov. Rick Perry is The Reject.
Five months after welcoming 30,000 believers to a Houston stadium, Perry is struggling to regain evangelicals’ support after a third-place showing in Iowa among religious conservatives.
Nobody was surprised when Rick Santorum won church voters in that predominantly Catholic and Lutheran state.
But their No. 2 choice wasn’t Perry.
It was born-again libertarian Ron Paul.
With Santorum gaining support, Paul adviser Doug Wead said some evangelicals are choosing Paul instead because “Christians have learned that the Constitution is our friend.”
Wead is a former adviser to both Presidents Bush. He coined the term “compassionate conservative.”
Paul, a low-key Southern Baptist churchgoer, is worrying evangelical kingmakers such as James Dobson and the Rev. Don Wildmon because “they fear losing power,” Wead said.
“They wanted Perry. They didn’t want 1/8Mitt3/8 Romney. They wanted one of their own.”
Paul is finding votes in a growing evangelical divide.
Some want a strong government to promote Judeo-Christian values and aggressively defend Israel.
Others want a thrifty government that lets Christianity flourish on its own.
“If we allow the federal government to dictate, it will dictate the wrong way more often,” Wead said.
If Israel were threatened, Paul would act, Wead said: “But he believes in the Constitution, and only Congress should decide when we go to war in the Middle East, not pundits on TV.”
Perry started his campaign too late and too unprepared, Wead said.
Evangelical leaders all but drafted Perry, who attends a Southern Baptist mega church, after Mike Huckabee bowed out and Newt Gingrich originally faltered.
On Saturday, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer joined Southern Baptist author and broadcaster Richard Land in asking born-again voters to unite behind Santorum.
Bauer, Dobson and Wildmon have called a summit Friday in Central Texas.
“It’s really all about them and that little group keeping power,” Wead said.
In South Carolina, Tea Party leader and Santorum supporter Javan Browder of Tigerville described Perry’s problem with evangelicals.
“I always assumed he was a solid conservative,” Browder said.
“But then I looked at his Gardasil mandate” — the short-lived 2007 Texas order requiring girls to be vaccinated against HPV — “and he’s just another big-government guy.”
Browder said Perry turned out to be just the “flavor of the month.”
Paul may yet have his month.