Florida evangelical leader John Stemberger is a step away from endorsing Rick Perry for president, a big coup for the Texas governor and a loss for fellow Republican Michele Bachmann. Stemberger's likely endorsement follows some top-level Perry staff hires (see below)*
"We really like Michele Bachmann She has stellar credentials when it comes to our issues. She is an amazing woman. Our primary drive is principle and the issues," Stemberger said. "But we also have to be realistic, pragmatically, and determine who’s viable."
Stemberger said that meant he and the Florida Family Policy Council, which has an email list of about 65,000 Florida evangelical voters, had two choices.
"This is a two man race between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. And there’s a growing consensus among evangelical leaders and, to some degree, among those in the tea party and pro-life Catholics that Rick Perry is the most trustworthy candidate on our issues," Stemberger said.
"There are too many trust issues with Mitt Romney," he continued. "The issue not that he is a Mormon. The issue is that he wasn’t Mormon enough. If he had been consistent with traditional Mormon values his whole career, that would make me feel a lot more comfortable about where he’s coming from. Perry is a lot more solid on our issues."
Romney's liability on social issues (Perry's asset) might be geographical. Romney was governor of liberal Massachusetts, where he also ran for U.S. Senate. So he couldn't be an arch-conservative. Perry was governor of Texas. So he basically had to be an arch-conservative.
"When it comes time to make those decisions, it shows how deep your convictions go. I know Perry didn’t have the opportunity to do that because he’s in a different environment," Stember said.
"Perry is not a perfect candidate. We only had one perfect candidate and we crucified him 2,000 years ago."
Stemberger said he'll officially make up his mind after talking to some of the evangelical leaders who were among the 300 in attendance earlier this summer at the Texas ranch of Jim Leininger (stories here and here). Stemberger was invited but couldn't go because he was in Orlando for a Florida Family Policy Council annual dinner, where the featured speaker was Bachmann.
*In addition to Randy Enwright, Jim Rimes and Rich Heffley, the Rick Perry campaign today announced today that Nick Hansen will be Florida state director, Bret Prater will serve as the Florida Political Director, and Anthony Bustamante will advise the Florida team’s grassroots efforts.
From a campaign release: “Florida is very important to me, and I am looking forward to bringing my pro-jobs conservative message to Florida and the Presidency 5 straw poll events,” said Gov. Perry. “I have also assembled a strong team of Florida Republican professionals to help carry my record and vision for job creation and fiscal conservatism to the voters of the Sunshine State.”
Nick Hansen has been involved in numerous successful elections, including municipal, legislative and presidential races. He has served as a campaign strategist for Congressman Gus Bilirakis, Jack Latvala for State Senate, Sandra Murman for Hillsborough Commissioner, Bill Foster for St. Pete Mayor, and Deveron Gibbons for St. Pete Mayor. Hansen was the Tampa Bay Regional Field Director for Mitt Romney for President in 2008. Most recently, Hansen acted as a strategist and legislative assistant to Representative Jeff Brandes.
Bret Prater organized grassroots in Miami during the Bush-Brogan 2002 gubernatorial campaign, served as a Regional Victory Director in the panhandle during the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, and has managed statewide projects for the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) for the past three election cycles. During the 2010 election cycle, Prater served as the RPOFs Political Director, where he oversaw the party’s Victory program, managed congressional affairs, and acted as a liaison to statewide campaigns. Most recently Prater was the Florida Political Director for Tim Pawlenty for President.
Anthony Bustamante served as Senator Marco Rubio’s Statewide Field Director in 2010. While in that role, he built up the grassroots organization in Florida by gathering support from local parties, the Tea Party, 9/12 groups, and many other conservative organizations across the state. Bustamante has also served as a Regional Victory Director and 72 Hour Director for the RPOF.