Alex Wong/Getty Images
Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit 2011, Oct. 7, 2011 in Washington, DC.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit 2011, Oct. 7, 2011 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Texas Gov. Rick Perry used an appearance Friday before the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of more than 3,000 Christian conservatives to suggest that his chief opponent in the race for the Republican presidential nomination is a fair-weather cultural conservative.
Though Perry didn't mention former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by name, both he and the prominent Dallas pastor who introduced him suggested that Romney was not the real deal when it comes to issues dear to the heart of social and cultural conservatives.
"For some candidates," Perry said to a nearly packed hotel ballroom in Washington, being pro-life "is an election year slogan."
Romney has famously shifted his position from supporting abortion under some circumstances, to opposing it.
Perry, in a speech that was equal parts about jobs, national security and abortion, touted his record as governor, including requiring that women seeking to terminate a pregnancy undergo a sonogram.
His biggest applause line: that he signed a state budget that ended funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides family planning and, at some clinics, abortion services.
Perry has in recent days doubled down on comparing Romney to President Obama. And Friday, the Rev. Robert Jeffress of the Dallas First Baptist Church and his pastor took up the narrative in introducing the Texas governor.
Jeffress, who has not previously endorsed a candidate, said Christian conservatives have a choice.
"Do we want a candidate who is skilled in rhetoric, or one who is skilled in leadership? Do we want someone who is a conservative out of convenience, or one who is a conservative out of conviction?," he said. "Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or one who is a born-again follower of Jesus Christ?"
Jeffress appeared to touch on the discomfort some conservative Christians have over Romney's Mormon faith.
Perry received a polite, if not overly enthusiastic reaction from an audience who may feel their own discomfort over his support of a vaccine that inoculates girls against HPV, a sexual transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer.
He did not raise the issue.
Rick Santorum was the first of seven GOP presidential candidates scheduled to speak to address the gathering.
He elicited laughter by joking that he has a better tax plan than fellow candidate Herman Cain's "9-9-9" proposal.
"It's the zero, zero, zero plan," he said.
No corporate income tax, Santorum said, and repeal of regulations put in place by President Obama.
Popular with Christian conservatives, Santorum's staunch anti-abortion message was warmly received. Flanked on the stage by his wife and children, he recounted a moving story of the death of one of their children shortly after birth.
"I am committed," he said, "to the cause of life and family and American exceptionalism."