As Rick Perry jumps to the front of the Republican presidential polls, he continues to meet with and speak to conservative evangelical groups as a key campaign strategy.
The Texas governor, who officially entered the race last month after months of strategizing, spoke this week to Liberty University and met with a group of Southern Baptist and other Christian leaders last month.
In his remarks at a Liberty convocation on Wednesday, Perry spoke of his personal faith journey and his belief that pastors should stand up for “those Christian values that this country was based upon.”
Perry talked about “spending many a-night … talking to God” when he was younger and trying figure out what to do with his life.
Noting the mistakes of Moses, David and Paul, Perry said, “God uses broken people to reach a broken world.”
“What I learned as I wrestled with God is I didn’t have to have all the answers, that they would be revealed to me in due time and that I needed to trust him,” he said. “Do not live in fear, live in faith.”
Perry added that he came to God after realizing he “was lost – spiritually and emotionally.”
“As spiritual beings, we are meant to live in relationship with our Creator and with one another,” he added. “The happiest moments I’ve ever experienced are when I am in communion with God and in community with others.”
Perry ended his remarks by urging Liberty students to speak out and not let “a bunch of Washington politicians tell you how to live your life.”
Perry, whose speech included dramatic gestures like clasping his hands when talking about prayer, let a chuckle seep through as he mentioned “Washington politicians.”
Perry’s address to Liberty came just a couple weeks after he met privately with about 200 conservative Christian leaders on a ranch outside of Austin.
On the last weekend in August, Perry met with leaders like Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, James Dobson, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Jim Garlow and Harry Jackson.
The August meeting was not Perry’s first time to meet with many of these individuals. Prior to Perry’s official presidential announcement – but during the time he was planning a possible run – he joined a behind-closed-doors meeting of nearly 80 conservative Christian leaders.
Organized by Texas evangelist James Robison, the June meeting was a follow-up to a September 2010 meeting as Robison and other conservative Christians plotted to bring political revival and change to the 2012 elections.
Liberty’s chancellor, Jerry Falwell Jr., son of Liberty’s late founder, was scheduled to attend but could not make it.
Robison led a similar effort prior to the 1980 presidential election as he sought to defeat then-President Jimmy Carter. That effort culminated in an August 1980 rally in Dallas with then-Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan as the key speaker.
On Wednesday, Falwell introduced Perry at Liberty by talking about how much he “admired” Perry for “having the guts to say things that weren’t exactly politically correct, like when Governor Perry hinted that Texas might secede one day from the Union.”
Falwell also recounted saying several months ago – before Perry joined the presidential race – that “it was too bad” Perry was not running for president.
Falwell continued his long introduction by criticizing President Barack Obama on economic issues and praising Perry for his strong rating from the National Rifle Association. Falwell also compared Perry to Reagan.
“Thirty one years ago this fall, as a college freshman, I sat mesmerized as a conservative governor from a large state told a much smaller convocation gathering about his vision for America,” Falwell said as he recounted Reagan speaking at Liberty as a presidential candidate in 1980.
“At that time, America was mired in an economic malaise and seemed to be waning in its standing in the world. Overreaching government control had fueled double-digit interest rates and inflation. As young college students, we feared just as many of you do now that our nation’s future was in jeopardy.”
“Ronald Reagan was that governor,” Falwell added. “He was elected president soon thereafter, and over the following eight years he returned America to prominence and prosperity and became one of the greatest presidents in the history of our country. I have a feeling today that history is about to repeat itself.”
Falwell also said that Perry’s trip to Liberty was organized and made possible due to the work of religious-political organizer David Lane and Liberty’s vice president for executive projects, Johnnie Moore.
Both Lane and Moore have been part of Robison’s group.
According to Perry, Lane and Robison inspired him to lead “The Response,” a prayer rally held last month at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Numerous other individuals in Robison’s group were key leaders in planning the event, which thrust Perry into the national headlines just days before he officially announced he was running for president.
Perry’s support among conservative evangelicals is one of the key factors to his rapid rise to the front of the Republican presidential primary polls.
His speech at Liberty University on Wednesday, his private meetings with Christian leaders in June and August, and his prayer rally in August demonstrate Perry’s efforts to mobilize conservative Christians and receive their support as he seeks to be what Robison and his group say they are hoping for – a new Ronald Reagan.