Up to now, religion hasn't played much of a part in the 2012 presidential campaign. But if Texas Governor Rick Perry gets into the race, as expected, that will change.
Perry has no qualms about injecting religion into public life. This was clear Saturday when he helped to sponsor a day of prayer and fasting in Houston to ask God's help for America, which he says is "in crisis." In his address to more than 20,000 attendees at a pro-football stadium used by the Houston Texans, he said, "Father, our heart breaks for America. We see discord at home, we see fear in the marketplace, we see anger in the halls of government. As a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us, and for that, we cry out for your forgiveness." Referring to the Old Testament, he said, "You call us to repent, Lord, and this day is our response." He told the crowd: "Like all of you, I love this country deeply. Thank you all for being here. The only thing that you love more is the living Christ."
If Perry does run he will be popular among the evangelical Christians who are very influential in GOP nominating politics but may turn off secular voters who object to his overtly Christian appeal. Some have already criticized Perry for violating the separation of church and state.
And there is likely to be renewed scrutiny by the media of all the candidates' religions, in addition to Perry's. This could have a major impact, partly because it could revive concerns about the Mormon faith of front runner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and long-shot candidate Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah who is also a Mormon. Many conservative Christians don't consider Mormonism a Christian faith.
This issue plagued Romney when he ran for president in 2008 but has been largely dormant so far in the current campaign. A Perry candidacy could easily revive it.