Robert Jeffress endorses Rick Perry, says Mormonism is a ‘cult’

at 12:47 PM ET, 10/07/2011

We’re live-blogging this year’s Values Voter summit, a three-day conference organized by the social conservative Family Research Council where most presidential contenders are speaking.

5:28 p.m.: Gingrich actually said something pretty bold in his speech — that he would ignore the Supreme Court if he didn’t agree with its decisions. But his focus on judicial overreach did not have the popular appeal of the broader-based speeches other contenders gave. Audience members seemed to agree with him, but the applause was polite more than enthusiastic.

5:06 p.m.: When the press said this was a two-man race, “they may be right but they got the wrong two people,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He’s talking about himself and Herman Cain — but Cain has moved up to second place in polls, while Gingrich is still lagging.

His speech, so far, is much more policy-oriented than the others and sounds more like a lecture than a campaign speech. Coming right after Cain, Gingrich sounds particularly sedate. There’s polite applause but not a lot of enthusiasm.

5:02 p.m.: Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain got by far the most enthusiastic response from the audience, in a speech filled with one-liners and catchphrases. The crowd changed “9-9-9,” his economic plan.

“America wants to raise some Cain,” he declared. Maybe, maybe not. The social conservatives gathered here definitely do.

4:52 p.m.: Cain got some of the biggest applause of the day when he declared that as a black man, he is not angry at America. He referenced a contentious interview last night with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.

“A reporter asked me just yesterday, ‘Well, aren’t you angry about how America has treated you?’ I said ‘Sir, you don’t get it. I have achieved all of my American dreams and then some.”

4:41 pm: Cain is in a very good mood today.

“You know when you’re running for president and you move into the top tier,” he said, smiling, “you get this bullseye on your back and people take potshots left and right. Opponents are attacking him, he said, “because they’re maybe a little bit afraid that this longshot wont be a longshot anymore.”

His speech, as usual, was full of applause lines, heavy on jokes and declarations that the other side doesn’t get it.

On the “Occupy Wall Street” protests, he said, Wall Street didn’t create Obama’s policies ... You can demonstrate all you want on Wall Street, the problem is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

3:13 pm: Prominent evangelical leader Robert Jeffress told reporters at the Values Voter summit that Mormonism is a “cult” and that voting for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney would “give credibility to a cult” -- a position he first took in the 2008 election.

Jeffress introduced Perry, calling him a “a committed follower of Christ.” Afterwards, he told reporters that he endorsed as an individual, and that he would not tell his church members how to vote. However, he's planning to give a sermon this Sunday in which he talks about “how a Christian should vote.” One of the criteria for candidates — “Is he a Christian?”

Many evangelicals, he said, were afraid to talk about Mormonism but would have a hard time voting for a Mormon candidate.

“I did not talk about my Mormon views” with Perry, he said, and “I’m not insinuating that the governor shares those at all — he may not.”

He added, “As a pastor I am not nearly as concerned about a candidate's record on fiscal issues or immigration issues” as he is social conservative bonafides.

Perry spokesman Robert Black said in a statement after the event, “The governor does not believe Mormonism is a cult. He is not in the business of judging people. That’s God’s job.”

2:50 pm: Perry went hard on border security and foreign policy, avoiding controversial immigration issues that have caused trouble for him in the past.

“I have lived and breathed this issue as a border state governor,” he said, and spoke against amnesty or driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said Thursday that Perry would have to explain his stance on immigrtion, particularly his decision to sign a law allowing in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants.

Perry echoed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s call to reverse defense cuts in a speech at the Citadel today.

“I will never put military funding on the chopping block for arbitrary cuts as part of some kind of political horse trade,” he said. “Never.”

On Israel, Perry said, “When I am president, America will again stand with our friends. ... Keeping Israel secure is key to keeping America secure.”

Perry looks relaxed and confident, referring only occasionally to his notes and getting frequent laughs and applause from the packed house.

2:42 pm: Like Santorum before him, Perry emphasized family, starting his speech by praising his wife Anita. “The fabric of our society is not government, or individual freedom. It is the family,” he said.

“For some candidates, pro-life is an election year slogan, following the prevailing political winds,” he said. “To me it’s about the absolute principal that every human being is entitled to life.”

He got a huge standing ovation when he mentioned defunding Planned Parenthood.

Perry did not mention his executive order to mandate an HPV vaccine for young women in Texas, a decision he now says he regrets. But Perry repeatedly emphasized personal freedom in health-care, saying, “you can’t live free when the government gets between you and your doctor.”

2:27 pm: Texas Gov. Rick Perry is introduced by Southern Baptist Convention leader Robert Jeffress, who endorsed the candidate recently. Jeffress called Perry “the most pro-life governor in the United States of America.” He also alluded to Perry's recent debate fumbles, saying, “do we want a candidate who is skilled in rhetoric, or one who is skilled in leadership?"

Perry came on stage to loud, enthusiastic applause.

2:10 pm: Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is talking about the fight to unseat state Supreme Court judges who voted to legalize gay marriage. He said that protesters in favor of same-sex marriage were ”almost militant” and “the most unhappy people I ever heard refer to themselves as gay.”

Three of the seven judges who voted to legalize gay marriage were ousted in last November’s election.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is speaking after King.

12:15 pm: Santorum goes back to the 1990s

In a presidential race dominated by economic issues, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum gave a speech that felt like a throwback to the culture wars of the 1990s.

He spent a good chunk of his speech recalling his fight against late-term abortion in the Senate and arguing that candidates should be judged by their families and their personal lives. He brought his own family up on stage for emphasis.

“Being president is not just about passing laws, folks, its about leading,” he said with his family surrounding him. “We have seven children in our family,” he added, pointing to one of his special-needs child ren, who he says “shouldn’t be here ... but we loved her.” He said that his ‘disabled’ child could serve as a example of his anti-abortion rights convictions.

Presidential candidates, he said, should be judged in part by their spouses.

“When you look at someone to determine whether they’d be the right person for public office, look at who they lay down with at night and what they believe,” he said. “Who is the person at their side who has been the closest counselor to that person?” No one, he said, has the “track record” of his wife Karen.

And Santorum spoke passionately against gay marriage, saying: “We must fight in every state to make sure marriage remains between one man and one woman.”

Santorum got a huge standing ovation from the packed crowd, but the remarks that got the most passionate response were jokes about President Obama’s economic and foreign policy. While he tied family values to economic policy, arguing:“You cannot have a strong economy without strong families.”

He also took a shot at former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain , saying that he could beat the “9-9-9” plan with a “0-0-0 plan” — zero corporate taxes on manufacturers, zero taxes on overseas investments and zero Obama-instituted regulations.

Santorum made an emotional appeal that other candidates might have trouble matching with this religious crowd. But it’s hard to imagine Santorum’s throwback speech having much impact on his poll numbers in the presidential race.

 
Read what others are saying