Texas Governor Rick Perry, the Republican who is likely to soon join the race for the party’s US presidential nomination, cast his lot and burnished his credentials over the weekend with the vastly important base of evangelical Christians and social conservatives.
His flashy Houston day of prayer on Saturday, in which he exhorted Christians to turn to the Christian god for answers to the nation’s troubles, re-emphasized a vexing US political reality: The battle to win the party’s nomination for national office — be it for president or member of the US Congress — often requires that candidates shun moderation in favor of ideological extremes.
And that reality can distort outcomes. Voters can be left with a choice of candidates who ignore the vast US middle ground in favor of the loudest and most driven extremes.
While it is impossible to truly know Perry’s motives for using the day of prayer as his biggest day in the national spotlight so far, it undoubtedly sealed his credentials among some of the country’s most conservative Republican forces — battalions who will flock to state primary elections when the process of selecting a presidential candidate for next year begins in less than six months.
As Perry’s light shines bright among many Republican conservatives, he will not be present for premier party events this week in Iowa, where others already in the nominating fight jockey for positive outcomes — a booster rocket for their candidacies fueled by a deeply conservative fervor.
The entire field of announced Republican candidates planned to participate in a Thursday debate in Iowa — the first that will include former Utah governor Jon Huntsman — and most were staying in the leadoff caucus state for a straw poll two days later when -Republican activists cast their presidential preferences for the first time.
Perry, since he has not announced his candidacy, will not debate in Iowa, but plans to deliver speeches to the Alabama Republican party on Friday and to a convention of conservative bloggers in Charleston, South Carolina, on Saturday — the same day as the straw poll. The Texas governor’s likely run, however, casts a big shadow across Iowa.
Perry’s main competition — current frontrunner and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, US Representative Michelle Bachmann and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty — are all sharpening their attacks on US President Barack Obama.
For months, Romney has led the Republican field in polls and money while no less than a half-dozen — Bachmann, Pawlenty and Huntsman among them — have fought to emerge as his main challenger. All the while, the Republican electorate has made clear in polls that it wants more choices, perhaps a conservative who is strong on both economic and social issues.
That is where Perry could come in and is what led him to consider a White House bid. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin also is keeping the door open and will be a star attraction at a “Tea Party” rally in Iowa on Sept. 3.
Perry’s chances in the Iowa caucus early next year should he make a run, are seen as good. He has proven, so far, his comfort with the kind of conservatism and evangelical Christian values important to the state’s Republican activists. What is more, he brings with him a record of economic and jobs successes in Texas that have confounded most other governors.