Rick Perry is aiming to resonate with Christians with a new ad where he identifies himself as a believer and paints President Obama as essentially their enemy.
“I'm not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian,” Perry begins in the ad called “Strong.” “But you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.
“As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.”
Perry is making a push for Iowa religious conservative votes in his bid for the presidency. His new ad will begin running in Iowa, which will be the first state to cast votes in the presidential nomination process, on Jan. 3. The ad was revealed on Perry's campaign website this week. Supporters are being asked to join the campaign by providing contact information and checking a box that says, “I stand with Governor Perry against Obama's war on religion!”
Perry is speaking, in part, to the concerns of some religious conservatives that the Obama administration is failing to provide adequate freedom of conscience protections. The Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, has ruled that health care institutions receiving government funds under the new health care law must provide contraception services. The religious exemption is written so narrowly that Catholic hospitals and universities would not be exempt.
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, a social conservative advocacy organization, said last month that President Obama has been “hostile” and “disdainful” toward Christianity.
In another ad called “Faith” released last Friday, Perry said, “Now some liberals say that faith is a sign of weakness. Well they’re wrong. I think we all need God’s help. America’s greatest leaders have been people of strong faith, strong values. That makes for a strong America. I’m Rick Perry, I’m not ashamed to talk about my faith, and I approve this message.”
Perry also made an overt appeal to Iowa evangelicals in a Wednesday interview on Fox News, saying, “If the evangelical in Iowa is looking for someone who they know, every day, that the president's faith is going to guide them and the values, I ask, which one of those 10 Commandments do you not like? That's how I try to live my life.”
Jim Wallis, a liberal evangelical and president of Sojourners, asked Perry on Thursday to take the ad down, writing, “what denigrates our religious heritage is to accuse someone of sincere faith who disagrees with you by perpetuating the myth of the 'war on religion' and accusing [Obama] of being a foot soldier in the battle.
“Our Founding Fathers would never have finished the Constitution had they required all of their religious beliefs to be identical. Diversity of opinion and beliefs is also what makes this country strong.”
The “Strong” ad was also controversial within Perry's campaign team. Tony Fabrizio, Perry's top pollster, said the ad was “nuts.” Nelson Warfield, a GOP operative who made the ad, confirmed in an email to The Huffington Post that there was an “extended conversation” about whether to air the ad.
The disagreement had, in part, to do with the ad’s apparent opposition to gays serving in the military. In the ad, Perry states, “There’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”
Some of those working in the Perry campaign, including Fabrizio and Liz Mair, have been active in promoting LGBT issues within the Republican Party and, apparently, did not like the negative tone toward gays implicit in the ad.
In a Thursday interview, Perry said, if elected president, he would not seek immediate reinstatement of the “don't ask, don't tell” policy and would not demand expulsion of military members who have already revealed that they are gay under the new policy.
“I think you go back and you have that conversation with the civilian leaders and the military leaders on how you want to deal with them,” Perry said.
At the time of this writing, the "Strong" ad had 747,019 views on Youtube, with 3,359 "likes" and 148,470 "dislikes."