Surging Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, the Texas governor, has pledged to influential Christian leaders that he will push pro-life policies, oppose gay marriage, and pick cabinet officials and a vice president who share his values, a promise that would rule out a Perry-Rudy Giuliani ticket.
At a weekend Texas gathering of about 200 conservative leaders, some from Washington, Perry and his wife Anita portrayed themselves as authentic and life-long conservatives who could bring the most pro-life administration ever to Washington. [Read more about the 2012 election.]
Over four hours of conversational questions and answers Saturday night and another two on Sunday morning, the couple addressed many questions from key players who are still just learning about Perry, the longest-ever serving Texas governor shoved into the presidential race after other big-name governors and former governors bailed out.
Key among the questions Perry fielded was who he would pick as a vice presidential candidate if he wins the nomination. Perry is an ally of Giuliani and endorsed him for president during the 2008 GOP primaries. At the time, he cited the former New York City mayor's ability to pull the city together after the 9/11 attacks.
However, conservatives, especially evangelicals, oppose Giuliani because he is pro-choice on abortion. Perry just signed an anti-abortion pledge from the Susan B. Anthony list that commits the signer to appointing pro-life officials, including the vice president. [See a slideshow of the 2012 Republican Contenders]
Some of those at the weekend conclave said Perry promised to stick to the pledge when considering a vice president and they left believing that meant Giuliani is out of the picture. Perry is currently far ahead of GOP pack in the polls.
He also addressed his controversial decision to mandate the HPV vaccine for Texas girls in the 6th grade. Perry told a story of how he decided without asking his wife, a nurse, who later scolded him for making it a mandate instead of a program parents can opt into. "I should have talked to her first," a source quoted Perry saying. He called his decision a mistake. [Read: Perry Surges, Obama Slips in Latest Poll.]
At one point, Anita Perry was also asked some questions. One pointed questioner said that in the past, conservatives have been surprised to find out that wives of presidents don't share their pro-life values. Anita Perry cast aside any concerns when she passionately said that she shares her husbands values and stands on key issues like gay marriage and abortion.
Perry also told stories about his recent back surgery and said "I've never felt better."
And he kidded about his book Fed Up, which is full of tough and controversial opinions like his view that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Making the case that he hadn't plotted a long-term path to the presidency like many others in the race, Perry said the proof is the book for which he's been criticized.
Some at the weekend retreat, one of several Perry has held to woo influential conservatives, said he came off as a genuine and authentic conservative. "He was very approachable and confident in his skin," said one source. "A lot of us had never met him. We aren't donors. Most of us aren't even committed to a candidate. But he went a long way to convince us that he's the real McCoy," said the source. "He has the potential to kill the competition and take Obama out. He's a real bad ass."
What's more many invited into the tent at the rugged ranch of Perry supporter Jim Leininger near Fredricksburg, Texas said that Perry drew a bright line between what he would do, especially on federal spending, and what former President George Bush did. "It's clear the Bushes don't like him and he doesn't like what Bush did and that absolutely works for him," said a participant.