6:18am

Sat October 8, 2011
Politics

Values Voters Given Choice: Perry Or Romney's 'Cult'

Originally published on Sat October 8, 2011 10:55 am

Five presidential candidates appeared at the opening day of the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., on Friday, but the speech getting the most attention was one by a pastor from Dallas who introduced Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Every year in Washington, social conservatives from across the country gather for the summit, an event sponsored by the Family Research Council. In presidential years, the summit is a must-stop for GOP candidates.

Dr. Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas was there to introduce his fellow Texan, but he was also there — as a pre-speech press release stated — to draw sharp contrast between Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"Those of us who are evangelical Christians are going to have a choice to make," he began.

The pastor said it's a choice between a candidate who is skilled in rhetoric or leadership — one who is a conservative out of convenience or one out of deep conviction.

"Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or do we want a candidate who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?" he said.

He didn't mention Romney by name, but it was clear he was talking about Romney and Romney's religion, Mormonism.

Perry then took the stage.

"I want to thank you for a rousing introduction," Perry said. "He knocked it out of the park, as we like to say."

Perry delivered a variation on his standard stump speech, but it was Jeffress who was making news. Talking to a group of reporters in the hallway, Jeffress was asked to clarify what he was saying about Romney. He said Romney isn't a Christian. On multiple occasions in that exchange, he called Mormonism a cult. Then, on CNN, he repeated himself.

"That's not some fanatical comment. That's been the historic position of evangelical Christianity. The southern Baptist convention, which is the largest protestant denomination in the world, has officially labeled Mormonism as a cult," he said.

The Perry campaign responded, saying Perry does not believe Mormonism is a cult.

Romney was not at the Values Voter Summit on Friday; he speaks Saturday. This audience has long been suspicious of Romney on social issues. He once supported abortion rights, but is now opposed to them. Many evangelicals simply don't believe him.

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a prominent Romney supporter who was at the event Friday, said Romney has a story to tell about personal values and about his family and his time in public life.

"He lives the values that he talks about and exemplifies," he said, "and I think that is going to be clear to people who are at this meeting this week."

While all of this was playing out, another candidate was preparing to speak — Atlanta businessman Herman Cain. In recent weeks, Perry's poll numbers have fallen and Cain's have risen significantly. He talked about his new prominence in the field.

"You know, when you run for president and you move into the top tier, I'm just saying, you get this bull's-eye on your back," he said.

Cain is bracing himself for tougher scrutiny and attacks to come, both from his rival candidates and from the media — the kind of challenge Romney and Perry are already used to.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Every year, social conservatives from around the country gather in Washington, D.C. for the Values Voters Summit. It's sponsored by the Family Research Council, and in presidential election years, it is considered a must stop for Republican candidates.

Five candidates appeared at the Summits opening yesterday, but the speech getting the most attention was delivered by a Dallas pastor who introduced Texas Governor Rick Perry. NPR National political correspondent Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Dr. Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas took the stage to endorse his fellow Texan, Rick Perry, but he was also there - as a pre-speech press release his staff handed out stated - to draw sharp contrast between Perry and former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney. Jeffress began...

DR. ROBERT JEFFRESS: Those of us who are evangelical Christians are going to have a choice to make.

GONYEA: The pastor said it's a choice between a candidate who is skilled in rhetoric or leadership; one who is a conservative out of convenience or one out of deep conviction. He didn't mention Romney by name, but it was clear he was talking about Romney and Romney's religion, Mormonism.

JEFFRESS: Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or do we want a candidate who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?

GONYEA: Governor Perry then took the stage.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: I want to say thank you for a rousing introduction. He knocked it out of the park, as we like to say, and...

GONYEA: Governor Perry delivered a variation on his standard stump speech, but it was Jeffress who was making news. Talking to a group of reporters in the hallway, he was asked to clarify what he was saying about Romney. He said the former Massachusetts governor isn't a Christian. On multiple occasions in that exchange, he called Mormonism a cult. Then, on CNN, he repeated himself.

JEFFRESS: That's not some fanatical comment. That's been the historic position of evangelical Christianity. The Southern Baptist convention, which is the largest protestant denomination in the world, has officially labeled Mormonism as a cult.

GONYEA: The Perry campaign responded saying the governor does not believe Mormonism is a cult. This audience has long been suspicious of the former Massachusetts governor on social issues. He once supported abortion rights, but is now anti-abortion rights. Many evangelicals simply don't believe him. One prominent Romney supporter who was there was U.S. senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. He said Romney has a story to tell about personal values and about his family and his time in public life.

SENATOR ROY BLOUNT: He lives the values that he talks about and exemplifies, and I think that is going to be clear to people who are at this meeting this week.

GONYEA: And while all of this was playing out, another candidate was preparing to speak - Atlanta businessman Herman Cain. In recent weeks, Rick Perry's poll numbers have fallen and Cain's have risen significantly. He talked about his new prominence in the field.

HERMAN CAIN: You know, when you run for president, and you move into the top tier, I'm just saying, you get this bull's-eye on your back.

GONYEA: Cain is bracing himself for tougher scrutiny and attacks to come, both from his rival candidates and from the media, the kind of challenge Romney and Perry are already used to. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.