Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry addresses the… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )
Texas Gov. Rick Perry picked up a key endorsement Friday as he delivered his pitch for the Republican presidential nomination at a gathering of social conservatives.
Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, called Perry “a proven leader” who embodies the three attributes that matter to social conservatives: a “genuine commitment to biblical values,” competency to govern, and electability.
“Do we want a candidate who is skilled in rhetoric or one who is skilled in leadership?” Jeffress said as he introduced Perry to a packed ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, the site of the annual Values Voter Summit. “Do we want someone who is a conservative out of convenience or one who is a conservative out of conviction?”
The Jeffress endorsement is a big one for Perry, whose positions on some issues – from immigration to vaccinating young girls for the sexually-transmitted HPV virus – have put him at odds with social conservatives.
Perry became an immediate front-runner when he entered the GOP presidential primary in mid-August, but now trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the polls.
Jeffress called Perry “a genuine follower of Jesus Christ,” in a not-so-subtle swipe at Romney, who is Mormon.
Jeffress “knocked it out of the park,” Perry said with a grin, as he began a speech that focused on what he called the “three pillars” of a successful society: a strong economy, strong families and a strong military.
“For more than a generation, our culture has emphasized a message of self-indulgence at the expense of social obligation,” Perry said. “…The fabric of our society is not government or individual freedom. It is the family. And the demise of the family is the demise of any great society.”
Perry hit on a variety of crowd-pleasers: He pledged support for Israel, spoke strongly against cutting defense spending and talked tough on border security.
“I’ve dealt with the carnage caused by those who traffic in drugs and weapons and people," Perry said. "As a border governor, I know firsthand the failures of our federal border policies. And I know the answers to those failures is not to grant amnesty to those who broke the law to come into this country.”
Perry also won a standing ovation when he declared that he “was proud to sign a budget that defunded Planned Parenthood in Texas.”
“As a society, we must stand for the principle that every life, every life is worth living, regardless of the circumstance,” he said. “In America, it’s not where you come from that matters, but where you’re going.”