Faith message propels Perry's quest for Iowa votes

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by BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on December 26, 2011 at 7:30 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 26 at 7:36 PM

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry resumes the 42-town bus tour he started in mid-December to try and win back Iowa Republican voters in his quest for the White House.

They briefly vaulted him to front-runner status in late August — before his debate performances.

The bus tour has become Perry's "hail Mary pass" leading up the caucuses on Tuesday, January 3.

Perry will start in the southwest Iowa town of Council Bluffs along the Missouri River, making a direct appeal to the state's Christian conservatives who made up a majority of the caucus-goers in 2008.

"There was a hole in my heart and I wasn't happy, and I wouldn't be happy until I found what would fit that hole in my heart — and that was God," Perry said in a recent interview about his faith on ABC News "Nightline."

Perry's initial pitch to voters as a job creator and master of the Texas economy has now been eclipsed by discussion of his religious credentials and a claim that he's the "outsider" needed to reform Washington.

But by raising the issues of gays in the military and school prayer, the candidate is left answering questions as to whether there are certain people who fall outside Rick Perry's view of America.

"The idea that we have to be forced to accept something that our faith says is not correct, I would suggest to you is an offensive thing to us," he told "Nightline."

Since Perry started the bus tour, his average poll numbers climbed out of single digits to 12 percent, according to Real Clear Politics. That's better, but still just enough to muster a fourth-place finish, according to Jay Root, who's been covering Perry in Iowa for the Texas Tribune.

"It's a tough road," Root said. "If he does get there, I think you will be able to look back at this bus tour and say that's when he began to turn it around."

Perry's last hope is that Iowa voters who keep turning from candidate to candidate will land back with him.

And so his bus — bearing the slogan "Faith, Jobs and Freedom"  —  rolls on. "If it doesn't work out so well, I think you look at it and say it was a good idea, but it was too little, too late," Root said.

The other Texan in the GOP presidential race, Rep. Ron Paul, returns to campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday. And despite the higher scrutiny because of controversial newsletters he released two decades ago that were critical of gays and blacks, his popularity keeps growing.

Polls indicate that Paul and Mitt Romney are the frontrunners in Iowa. And it could be Paul — not Perry — who will be getting one of the coveted top three spots in the caucuses next week.

E-mail bwatson@wfaa.com

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