Critics argued the event — called The Response — inappropriately blended politics and religion.
Perry insisted that the event had no political motivation, though he did say during his remarks: "We pray for our nation's leaders, Lord, for parents, for pastors, for the generals, for governors, that you would inspire them in these difficult times."
The other speakers focused primarily on prayer and redemption, though politics seeped in at times, tied to social issue policy. Dozens of people throughout the daylong event decried legalized abortion, while some also condemned gay marriage, although far fewer.
Protesters gathered outside the arena to condemn the event.
"The brand of Christianity being offered today is one of fear, and we want to let people know that God loves everyone, not to be afraid," said Dan DeLeon, a pastor from the United Church of Christ in College Station, who wore his robe in near-100-degree heat.
Rodney Hinds, who drove to Houston from Amarillo, waved a sign at traffic demanding "Pastor Perry Must Resign" and said: "He abused the power of his office by calling this event from his office as governor."
Whether that's true or not, this much is clear: Perry may have laid down a marker on Saturday with social conservatives that would allow him to enter the race as a candidate focused on jobs, but with credibility with values voters.
"He has the best record in the field on jobs, and doesn't have to get off message beefing up bona fides on social issues, since they are firmly established," said Mary Matalin, a former adviser during both Bush presidencies.
Given Texas' recent uptick in jobs, that combination could make Perry a potentially strong challenger to Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who leads in national polls, has business credentials but leaves cultural conservatives questioning his sincerity on their issues.
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