Will Rick Perry’s Prayerpalooza Backfire?

By
Perry Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Tomorrow is the Texas governor's long-planned and controversial Houston prayer festival, the Response. Perry has come under a great deal of fire already for the planned lineup of speakers at so-called "Prayerpalooza," which draws from the extreme end of evangelicalism: One speaker compared Oprah to the "Harlot of Babylon"; another called the Statue of Liberty "demonic." Still another thinks that bird deaths in Arkansas and elsewhere were God's response to the repeal of DADT. The event's co-sponsor, the American Family Association, is known for its anti-gay policies.

Perry seems to have conceived of the event at least partly as a way of drawing attention to his presidential campaign (and of positioning himself as the candidate of choice for the Christian Right), but there has been more of a negative response than he'd probably bargained for. And less of a positive one, too: The event will take place in a 75,000 person stadium, but just 8,000 tickets have been sold so far. Perry invited each of the 49 other states' governors to attend. Sam Brownback of Kansas is the only one who accepted — and now his office refuses to confirm whether he'll actually attend or not. Even Houston's own religious community leaders have spoken out against the event, which they say isn't exactly inviting to non-Evangelicals. A formal letter of protest was signed by Muslim, Jewish, Episcopal, and Baptist clerics in concert with the Anti-Defamation League, expressing concern over Perry's blurring of lines between church and state.

Even if ticket sales have been disappointing, media attention has been overwhelming, and Prayerpalooza promises to be a bit of a circus — the Westboro Baptist Church will protest, for instance. Plus, 225 members of the media have asked for credentials thus far. All the attention might fire up the base, but will it hurt Perry with the big donors he'd need on his side if he were to enter the race this late in the game?

It's the kind of balancing act for which a candidate needs the help of a Machiavellian mastermind — but Perry can't call the first name that comes to mind, fellow Texan Karl Rove. The two have a long-running feud dating back to the nineties, and so Perry supporters are worried about whether Rove — who wields a great deal of influence at a number of conservative organizations with deep pockets — would support a Perry run. Rove, for his part, might be worried that his big-ticket Texas donors would defect to Perry if he enters the race — leaving him with less financial weight to throw behind supporting another candidate, like, say, Romney.

Add the Rove worries to the prayer-event controversy, and maybe it's not just the back surgery that's causing Rick Perry pain.

Previously: Rick Perry’s Prayer Event Features a Speaker Who Thinks Oprah Foretells the Arrival of the ‘Harlot of Bablyon’
If Perry gets in, will Rove be out? [Politico]
Cloud of Controversy Hangs Over "Prayerpalooza" [Texas Tribune]
What to Expect From Rick Perry's Prayer Festival [Mother Jones]