Leaders of the Christian Right find their preferred candidate in Rick Perry

In advance of any kind of campaign declaration (or even any kind of confirmation of campaign rumors), Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry is sitting pretty for the GOP presidential nomination.

Just two recent successes, ripe for bragging: The Republican Governors Association, of which Perry is chair, raised $22.1 million for the first half of the year, eclipsing its six-month totals for 2007 to 2009, and erased its debt left over from the 2010 elections. (Admittedly, that cash is not for presidential campaign purposes, but it surely says something about Perry’s popularity and the general appeal of a Republican governor.) And Perry’s supporters independently secured a vendor slot at the Ames, Iowa, straw poll, just because they’re that committed to him as a(n undeclared) candidate.

Add to that, this: Leaders of the Christian Right are now seeking him out behind the scenes.

In early June, TIME has learned, a group of prominent figures on the Christian Right held a conference call to discuss their dissatisfaction with the current GOP presidential field, and agreed that Rick Perry would be their preferred candidate if he entered the race. Among those on the call were Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; David Barton, the Texas activist and go-to historian for the Christian Right; and John Hagee, the controversial San Antonio pastor whose endorsement John McCain rejected in 2008.

Religious conservatives have often played a substantial role in choosing past Republican nominees, but leaders on the Christian Right have been conspicuously quiet so far in this campaign season. Privately, however, they are enthusiastic about Perry and are encouraging the Texas governor to throw his ten-gallon hat into the ring.

Perry’s favor with the Christian Right is relatively new, and he is their candidate of choice as much by default as anything.

If that’s true, he’s a pretty decent default. Take his current project — an all-day Christian prayer event called “The Response” — as just one example of the way he’s showing his support for the Christian conservative cause. The American Family Association will co-sponsor the explicitly Christian event, scheduled for Aug. 6 in Houston. Perry also recently signed a gay marriage ban into law at a Christian school in Fort Worth with evangelical heavyweights Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), Rod Parsley (Ohio mega-church pastor), and Don Wildmon (American Family Association) in attendance.

So, it’s not so much a surprise that the Christian Right would support Rick Perry, as it is a surprise they find the present GOP field so dismal. You’d be hard-pressed to find two more socially conservative presidential candidates than Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, for example. Santorum might be easily dismissed — as Time’s Amy Sullivan so wittily put it, “his poll numbers in Iowa are smaller than the number of children he has” — but Bachmann’s impressive surge in popularity might conceivably have garnered her the support that Perry has picked up seemingly without so much as lifting a finger.

It must come back to that little thing called electability. In the minds of the Christian Right, it seems, Perry’s got it.