"You wouldn't necessarily notice it on a daily basis, but he is not at all self-conscious or shy about talking about faith or displaying it when he feels like it's called for," said Ray Sullivan, Perry's communications director. "It is just who he is."
William Martin, a professor at Rice University who studies religious conservatives, has questioned the compassion of Perry's health-care and socioeconomic record.
"I looked at his policies, and they didn't seem to be something that would flow from a heart full of Christian love, so I was thinking he had found religion conveniently," Martin said. "But as best I can tell, it seems to be a long-standing conviction of his."
Several other Republican presidential candidates also speak openly about how their faith guides their public service, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minn., who is scheduled to speak at Liberty University later this month. Jerry Falwell Jr., the college's chancellor, said she would be the fifth of the eight top GOP hopefuls to visit the campus.
Falwell said he would not endorse a candidate in the race, but he gave Perry a particularly enthusiastic introduction, calling him "one of the most pro-life governors in American history" and likening him to Reagan.
Absent from the list of those who've made a pilgrimage here is Perry's top rival for the nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has rarely, if ever, publicly discussed his Mormon faith during his current campaign.
With his speech here, Perry drew one of his sharpest contrasts with Romney, as well as former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. The contrast was not only over religion — Huntsman, too, is Mormon — but also over their backgrounds. Romney and Huntsman grew up in privileged families, but Perry spoke at length about his more humble origins.
Perry said the only world he knew while growing up was "that little place called Paint Creek." The closest post office to his home was 16 miles away, he said, and there were only two places of worship nearby: "a Methodist church and a Baptist church — your choice."
The only exposure he had to someplace else, he said, came in 1964, when he traveled to the East Coast for the National Boy Scout Jamboree.
"For me, indoor plumbing was a bit of a luxury until I was about 5 years old," Perry said. "And I didn't worry about the latest fashions; my mother sewed most of my clothes. I didn't know that we weren't wealthy in a material sense. I knew that we were rich in a lot of things that really mattered — in a spiritual way."
Perry said he turned to God not because he wanted to but because "I had nowhere else to turn. I was 27. I had been an officer in the United States Air Force, commanding a fairly substantial piece of sophisticated equipment, telling men and women what to do, but I was lost — spiritually and emotionally. And I didn't know how to fix it."
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