Appearing before a crowd that celebrates socially conservative values and fundamentalist Christian faith, Rick Perry barely mentioned either Friday in a speech to the Values Voters Summit in Washington.
The Republican presidential candidate, who has not been shy about discussing his evangelical religious beliefs before, instead made it clear he's running on a message of economic recovery.
Perry opened with a version of his standard stump speech, talking about his record as job creation in his home state and his principles for job creation. In a nod to his audience, the Texas governor did talk about the importance of families in the economic system.
"The fabric of our society is not government or individual freedom. It is the family. And the demise of the family is the demise of any great society," Perry said.
It was not until the second half of his 20-minute speech that Perry touched on issues at the top of social conservatives' agenda. He did not mention the controversial mandate that he attempted - unsuccessfully - to establish for all teenage girls in Texas to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that has been linked to cervical cancer.
The governor, who has maintained that controversial policy was consistent with his efforts to protect life, touted his opposition to abortion, touting his efforts to ban third-trimester abortions and to require parental consent for minors seeking to terminate pregnancies.
"For some candidates pro-life is just an election-year slogan," Perry said. "To me it's about the absolute principle that every human being is entitled to life...all human life is made in the image of our creator."
On the defensive in conservative circles for his willingness to provide tuition breaks to children of illegal immigrants in Texas, Perry used his speech to the Values Voters to shore up his conservative credentials on immigration and border issues. He highlighted his support for legislation requiring a photo ID to vote and his veto of a bill that would have given drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants.
In addition, Perry reiterated his suggestion that it might be necessary to send U.S. troops to Mexico to help fight the drug war.
When Perry first floated the idea last Saturday during a meet and greet in Manchester, N.H. , it was unclear whether he was tabling a policy proposal or making an off-the-cuff gaffe. In his speech Friday, Perry made it clear he's serious.
"Make no mistake about it: what we are seeing south of our border is nothing short of a war being waged by those narco-terrorists. They represent a clear and present danger to our country," Perry said. "In the face of this threat we shouldn't take any options off the table, including security operations in cooperation with the Mexican government as we did with Colombia," he said, referring to the use of U.S. forces to help fight the drug war in Colombia.
Although he stayed away from attacks on his fellow GOP candidates, Perry leveled a few subtle hits at President Obama. He pledged to "never put the military on the chopping block for arbitrary budget cuts as part of some arbitrary political horse trade," a reference to defense cuts that will be enacted if a congressional supercommittee fails to reach an agreement on deficit reduction this fall. Perry also joked that Obama's administration was "playing fast and furious with the truth," a dig at aon the Mexican border.