Still, Huntsman's name will appear alongside the other candidates on the ballot for a straw poll at the summit. The results of that poll will be announced Oct. 8.

Perkins said voters wouldn't automatically write off candidates who had swayed from socially conservative positions in the past — such as Mitt Romney on abortion rights — as long as they had made a persuasive course correction.

"Anything short of an absolute commitment to defending the freedom of religion and speech and strengthening the family will make a candidate a non-starter with conservatives," he said.

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Perkins told reporters at the National Press Club that Romney's shift to a more anti-abortion position seemed genuine to him, and said that while social conservatives were more concerned about policy positions than a candidate's personal faith, Romney's Mormon faith did set him apart.

"I do not believe they consider it to be a Christian religion," Perkins said. "There is certainly a working relationship [between Mormons and Christians], but when people think about it from a theological standpoint, there is a distinction."

Perkins gave Rick Perry the benefit of the doubt over his recent struggles and said the Texas governor needs to develop a more concise message, including on immigration, where in a recent debate Perry called it heartless to deny in-state tuition to children of those who enter the country illegally.

"A lot of people took offense to suggest that if you uphold the law, that is heartless," Perkins said. "Whether that was a poor choice of words, we've not seen him in another debate since correcting those statements."

Responding to the wave of calls for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or others to enter the GOP race, Perkins said Christie had a record of accomplishment, but questioned some of his appointments over the issue of abortion. He said Christie's appointment of Muslim-American attorney Sohail Mohammed to a state bench added to those questions.

"I'm sure it does create some concern among some," Perkins said.

Perkins saved his most pointed critique for President Obama, whom he said has succeeded in doing nothing but dividing the nation.

"That is the prayer of a lot of people, that this president is a one-term president, lest we lose this country forever."