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Perry tries to revive campaign with faith

By Dave Montgomery, McClatchy Newspapers –

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Texas Gov. Rick Perry temporarily shelved his hard-hitting rhetoric on the campaign trail Tuesday night, choosing instead to talk about his faith before several hundred socially conservative Christians at a prayer service.

The venue was a smaller version of the revival-style day of prayer and fasting that Perry held in Houston’s cavernous Reliant Stadium just days before jumping into the presidential race and soaring briefly to the top of the polls.

Perry, who often refers to his Christian faith as the governor and a presidential candidate, quoted Scripture, closed his eyes in prayer and delivered a message that sounded far more like a Sunday sermon than a political stump speech.

“There is hope in each of us,” said the 61-year-old governor, who traces his spiritual roots to his rural upbringing in Paint Creek.

“But that hope is not in government. That hope is in God.”

Like the megaservice in Houston, which drew more than 30,000, the smaller gathering at a Greenville convention center was also known as The Response and was billed as nonpolitical. But just days before Saturday’s South Carolina primary, it underscored the importance of evangelical voters in Perry’s bid to revive his candidacy.

Perry seemed to be a major contender for evangelical support when he entered the race in mid-August. But his prolonged drop in the polls, due in part to poor debate performances, has eroded his support in the powerful constituency.

He was bypassed by a group of social conservatives who met over the weekend in Texas and threw their support to former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Evangelicals make up as much as 60 percent of South Carolina’s Republican electorate.

Perry, the only candidate to attend Tuesday’s prayer service, made oblique references to politics as he stressed the importance of God and faith in keeping America on track. “His agenda is not political,” Perry said. “He’s smarter than that. But he’s calling for all of us . . . to pray for this country.”

Echoing some of the themes he delivered during his appearance at the Houston rally, Perry also asked God to help President Barack Obama and his family and to guide the country’s leaders as they confront the nation’s problems.

Although it was smaller than the Houston event, the Greenville service followed the same format of prayer, Scripture-reaching, worship and Christian music.

“We stand at a critical juncture in America,” David Sliker of the International House of Prayer of Kansas City, Mo., said before Perry’s arrival. “We’re looking to leadership in a political figure and God is looking to us.”

The service was the latest in a series of events being conducted by The Response USA and timed to coincide with key early primaries. A fundamental goal is to encourage churches and their congregants to become more politically aware.

All the candidates were invited, but only Perry accepted.

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