AUSTIN, Texas — God forgives people for their "oops moments" even if the American electorate does not, failed Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry said Wednesday at a breakfast to celebrate the National Day of Prayer.
The Texas governor famously muttered "oops" during a presidential debate when he couldn't remember the third federal department he'd promised to eliminate if elected. It has become one of the campaign's signature moments.
"Every one of us has 'oops moments' every day" Perry told hundreds of faithful packed into an Austin hotel ballroom.
"America may not forgive you for it," Perry said, drawing laughter and applause. "But God will."
Perry is an evangelical Christian and often attends prayer gatherings. A week before officially beginning his run for president in August, he hosted a national day of prayer that drew 30,000 to a Houston arena.
Perry has kept a relatively low profile since dropping out of the presidential race two days before the South Carolina primary in January. But he is in his element at religious events and it showed Wednesday, with the relaxed and self-effacing governor playing to a sympathetic crowd that frequently interrupted him with cries of "Amen!"
His speech kicked off state celebrations of the National Day of Prayer a day early. The annual event, held on the first Thursday of May, attracts people of all faiths who pray for the country. It was created in 1952 by a resolution in Congress, and signed into law by President Harry Truman.
Perry also presented a proclamation formally recognizing May 3 as Texas Day of Prayer. Organizers of the breakfast promised mass prayer events statewide on Thursday.
"You've been given free will but it's God's will that we seek every day in our private lives, in our public lives and as a nation," Perry said. "National Day of Prayer is our way of saying that we require God in every facet of our lives, not just in our public lives and certainly not in just our private lives."
He also urged the gathering to pray for President Barack Obama, drawing another burst of "Amens!"
"Let's pray for our president, for his wisdom," Perry said. "I pray that God pierces his heart."
Perry is the country's longest-serving sitting governor and has held his post longer than anyone in Texas history, taking office when George W. Bush left for the White House in 2000. He has not ruled out seeking a fourth full term in 2014, and has even fueled speculation he may try again for the presidency.
Perry, who opposes abortion, said he hoped Obama "truly understand God's will to protect innocent life. I pray for his true understanding of God's will for this country."
Texas is embroiled in a legal battle over a state law preventing a health organization affiliated with abortion providers from receiving state funds. On Tuesday, a federal judge said he wanted to hear arguments on whether the state should be prevented from enforcing a law that bans Planned Parenthood from participating in the program — less than 24 hours after another judge ordered Texas not to enforce the rule.
The law passed last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature forbids state agencies from providing funds to an organization affiliated with abortion providers. Eight Planned Parenthood clinics that do not provide abortions sued the state, saying the law unconstitutionally restricts their freedom of speech and association.