Will Religious Voters Be Perry's Salvation?

Hoping for a Hail Mary touchdown in Iowa, Rick Perry touts religious themes in new ad.

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With a strong finish in the Iowa Caucuses the best hope for Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential chances, the campaign has begun a push to win over the religious conservative voters who have often dominated the state-wide contest.

On Wednesday, Perry released a new ad, "Strong," in which he excoriates President Obama for ending the military's ban on openly gay service members and blasts Obama for supposedly declaring a "war" on religion. "I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian, 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," Perry says in the ad. The ad is airing state-wide in Iowa, as well as nationally on Fox News. It's not the first time Perry has sought an advantage on issues such as abortion, gay rights, or religion in public life. Perry was also quick to capitalize on the White House's directive to use foreign aid to encourage protections for gay rights. "This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country," Perry said in a statement released soon after the directive became public. "Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americans of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong."

[Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP race.]

The ads may resonate in Iowa, where religious conservative voters have long played a heavy roll in elections. In 2008, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, stunned the political world by winning the Iowa caucuses. In 1988, televangelist Pat Robertson won the Iowa contest. "People who identify as very Christian, or born-again Christian, have always had heavy turnout on election night," says Chris Larimer, a professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann seemed to grab an early lead with Iowa's socially conservative voters, but with her campaign stuck at single digit support, other campaigns are seeing an opportunity. "It really seems to be between Perry and Bachmann," Larimer says. While former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is currently leading in Iowa, his messy personal life—including two divorces and admitted infidelity—has left many skeptical that he can win over Iowa's religious voters, especially as his campaign is still building an operation in the state with only weeks to go before the Jan. 3 contest.

Perry, who had only 5 percent support among Republican voters nationally in the latest Gallup poll, will likely need a strong finish in Iowa to revive his campaign and finish well in later contests. Larimer estimated that without at least a third place finish in the race, Perry's campaign would have a hard time moving forward to primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

aparker@usnews.com

Twitter: @AlexParkerDC