Commentary: Rick Perry sells himself to his base at prayer rally

Rick Perry closed the deal.

As a door-to-door Bible salesman in Missouri on summer break from Texas A&M, the future governor of Texas learned how to pitch the Gospel.

On Saturday, he successfully sold himself as the best candidate to rally conservative Christians into the voting booth for what will soon become his 2012 presidential campaign.

By knocking on 30 doors a day to sell Bibles, he said in a 2006 interview, he learned that "you've got to be really motivated."

Now, prodded by conservative Christian leaders needing a firebrand, Perry is motivated enough to thrill a rally that drew twice the crowd of 17,000 who met future President Ronald Reagan at a similar Dallas revival in August 1980.

In a small Assemblies of God church on the west side of Fort Worth, a handful of worshippers took time out on a Saturday to watch the webcast, as much out of curiosity as out of faith.

"I was very impressed," said Marla Mann, 55, of Westworth Village, standing beneath the landmark clock tower at the Living Water Church with its message: "IT IS TIME TO SEEK GOD."

"I never noticed Perry saying all this before," she said. "I wasn't aware that he loves the Lord and fellowship. I think he was very persuasive."

Perry, a Methodist who attends a Southern Baptist megachurch in Austin, has mostly sided with religious conservatives as governor but had never called for a prayer rally or tried to take a pulpit role like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor.

Church secretary Kathy Jacobs, 45, walked the aisle, lifting her hands and clapping. "I've never felt so much spirit," she said. "I think the governor spoke from his heart."

By quoting Scripture and praying in front of tens of thousands nationwide without a misstep, Perry cleared the last hurdle before launching his campaign, Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson said.

"The whole issue was just getting through this smoothly," Jillson said."The crowd was more than expected. He completed this very gracefully. Now, he goes right to the top."

Perry moves ahead of Rep. Michele Bachmann and now challenges Mitt Romney for Republican primary votes, Jillson said.

That means he'll be knocking on more doors.

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