UPDATE: In what may be a crushing final blow to Perry, anti-gay leaders back Santorum

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Rick Santorum

If Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential hopes weren’t dead already, they almost certainly are now. We told you Friday that a group of national evangelical leaders gathering in Brenham, Texas, this weekend wasn’t likely to reach a consensus about which candidate to support in the Republican presidential race as an alternative to Mitt Romney. But apparently we spoke too soon. The Huffington Post reports today that the group has endorsed Rick Santorum, who is widely considered the most anti-gay candidate in the race:

“Rick Santorum has consistently articulated the issues that are of concern to conservatives, both economic and social,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, speaking on behalf of the attendees. “He has woven those into a very solid platform. And he has a record of stability.”

Added Perkins: “He obviously is not up to some of the other candidates in terms of fundraising, but those issues can be corrected. With this strong consensus coming behind him, that can aid in the fundraising that he needs to be successful in the primary.”

The group of religious conservative leaders met on Friday and Saturday at the Brenham ranch of former judge and Southern Baptist leader Paul Pressler. The assemblage did not release a full list of its members, although radio host James Dobson, Don Wildmon of the American Family Association and pastor Jon Hagee were among the invited.

Santorum emerged as the winner after three rounds of balloting, with the final vote between him and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Santorum eventually received the support of more than two-thirds of those voting. Texas Gov. Rick Perry also received strong support.

—  John Wright

GOP frontrunner Rick Perry tries to assure social conservatives that the gay rumors aren’t true

Gov. Rick Perry

In an apparent reference to longstanding rumors that he’s gay, Texas Gov. Rick Perry assured a group of influential social conservatives over the weekend that “there is nothing in my life that will embarrass you if you decide to support me for president,” according to this report from the Texas Tribune.

Perry spoke during a private gathering in Texas’ Hill Country attended by hundreds of social conservatives including several prominent anti-gay bigots, such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. The gathering was organized by David Barton, the WallBuilders founder and so-called “Christian historian” who recently suggested that four Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of same-sex marriage in New York should be scalped.

According to the Tribune, those in attendance asked Perry about a range of hot-button social issues, including abortion, immigration, gay marriage and hate crimes. Perry’s wife, Anita, was even asked whether she shares her husband’s views on abortion and same-sex marriage, to which she replied that she does. From The Tribune:

While job creation is the chief campaign message, winning evangelical voters is a major part of Perry’s nomination strategy. Polls show they make up some 40 percent of the electorate in some states, and social conservatives are expected to play a huge role in the outcome of the race in first-test Iowa, where Perry is giving native daughter Michele Bachmann a run for her money. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, an ordained minister, won the Iowa caucuses in 2008.

Research published last weekend by the Palm Beach Post shows that “white, born again evangelicals” also make up more than a third of the vote in the GOP electorate in Florida, a key state that is expected to draw a lot of attention from Perry.

Perkins, the Family Research Council president, said religious conservatives will increasingly become comfortable with the Texas governor once they get to know him and examine his record in detail.

“I think he has the answers that are satisfactory when those issues are brought up,” Perkins said. “I think he is addressing them with the leaders in that community and as that information disseminates, I think he will be fine.”

—  John Wright

Perry’s association with hate groups nothing new

Gov. Rick Perry’s planned Aug. 6 day of prayer and fasting, “the Response,” has garnered a range or reactions over the last month, from Houston clergy expressing concern about the blurring of lines between church and state, to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force decrying the rally as “profoundly harmful.” What almost every denouncement of “the Response” has in common is shock that the governor would align himself with the American Family Association, an organization listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

For those who’ve followed Perry’s political career closely, however, his connections with a notorious hate group are just par for the course.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is a pro-bono legal firm and civil rights advocacy group. Since shortly after its founding in 1971 the SPLC has declared certain groups “hate groups” based on the groups’ perpetuation of inaccurate and harmful information about communities fighting for their civil rights. In the case of anti-gay groups the SPLC places organizations on the list of hate groups for “their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.”

Perry publicly aligned himself with the AFA as early as 2005, when AFA founder Don Wildmon was invited to participate in a signing ceremony celebrating the passage of Texas’ constitutional amendment defining marriage as between “one man and one woman.” The governor’s signature is not required on constitutional amendments. In fact, the executive branch of Texas government can neither propose nor approve constitutional provisions. That didn’t stop Perry from conducting a media event designed to take credit for the amendment’s passage. Perry selected Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Worth as the venue for the event, despite concerns that holding an (albeit superfluous) government ceremony in a religious facility strayed dangerously close to violating the separation between church and state. Also invited to the ceremony was former Louisiana State Rep. Tony Perkins, president of another group on the SPLC’s list, the Family Research Council.

—  admin

Haggard's big announcement amounts to little

Ted Haggard
Ted Haggard

Disgraced evangelist Ted Haggard hired a Hollywood publicist to announce that today, he would make an announcement.

According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, the announcement Haggard made today was that he would start a new church. That’s similar to an announcement that we reported in November.

Before he was caught using crystal meth with a prostitute in Oklahoma City in 2006, Haggard was the head of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of a Colorado megachurch.

He resigned from those positions the next day.

After three whole weeks of intense therapy, he was declared cured. James Dobson of Focus on the Family was on his “restoration team.”

One of those declaring him cured, discredited reparative therapist Tim Ralph, later said that Haggard now had the tools “to help to embrace his heterosexual side.”

Haggard’s former church was so forgiving of his indiscretions that as part of his severance package, they insisted he leave town. He was living in Phoenix until he returned to Colorado last fall and began the new church in his house.

UPDATE: In his announcement, Haggard said that St. James Church in Colorado Springs will welcome everyone. That includes gays, lesbians, Democrats and addicts. He said the church, however, won’t perform same-sex marriages. He didn’t say whether he’ll be doing meth.

—  David Taffet