DES MOINES, Iowa-The latest to tear out a page from Iowa's political playbook is Rick Perry. His fast rise in the polls back in September has left him one lingering lifeline: the campaign cash to advertise on television. And he is doing so more heavily than any of his GOP rivals in the state.
His campaign's newest ad positions the Texas governor not on a typical issue but on his unabashed openness on the topic of faith. Against a plain white backdrop, Perry looks at the camera for 30 seconds delivering an unmistakable message: "I'm not ashamed to talk about my faith."
Perry has a little more than four weeks to turn the tide in Iowa from the latest trends that show him dropping in the polls. And it's happened rapidly before in this primary season in a blur of ups-and-downs for various contenders since August.
Iowa's tendency to bring faith to the forefront is based on a clear pattern of rewarding candidates who best matched the zeal of a sizeable segment of the GOP base. In 1988, Pat Robertson surged to a second place finish. In 1996, Pat Buchanan also stole headlines with a strong second. In 2000, George W. Bush famously answered a question about the philosopher who had influenced him the most with "Jesus Christ." He went on to win convincingly. In 2008, former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee took top prize on caucus night.
This year, the candidates know the state's electorate and have polished their message accordingly. With most every candidate ready and willing to talk about his or her respective religious backgrounds, Christian conservatives in the state are left sorting through track records for clues as to whether they're hearing core convictions or pandering.
In his new ad, Perry says, "Some liberals say that faith is a sign of weakness. They're wrong."
His other TV messages have focused on his bio and conservative bona fides, his job-creating and energy independence plans, and a jab at President Obama's suggestion that the nation got a bit "lazy" in recent years. They also position him as a Washington outsider.
Perry's new ad is a strong play for the remaining undecided former Huckabee supporters in Iowa. Most of the prominent social conservative leadership in the state has not yet publicly endorsed anyone for the Republican nomination, with several candidates articulating policies and beliefs that resonate with them.
For Perry, who burst on the national political scene in mid-August with instant momentum and heady confidence, the ad interjects a dash of humility: "We all need God's help," he says.
History, which does indeed repeat itself in Iowa, generally sends forth just three candidates with any real hopes of ultimately capturing the party's nomination. Perry and fellow conservatives Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum each need a surge to carry one of them back into the top three in Iowa's polls. Even with Herman Cain's slip in support, there's not a lot of room at the top with Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney believed to be jostling for the pole position.
Starting in Iowans' living rooms, Rick Perry is trying to get back in the discussion.