Will Evangelicals Vote for a Mormon Candidate?
With Rick Santorum out of the Republican contest for the presidential nomination and Mitt Romney all but the official nominee, the political question of the moment is whether evangelicals will support Romney in the general election.
In the general election, most Republican evangelicals will likely vote for Romney, based on previous elections. Overall, around two-thirds of evangelical voters are expected to vote Romney in the general election. In head to head between Romney and President Obama, 72 percent of evangelicals would vote for Romney, compared to 25 percent who would vote for Obama, according to Pew. Just 21 percent of evangelicals approve of Obama, compared to 51 percent of Americans.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told NPR that evangelical voters would support Romney, particularly when the opponent is President Obama.
"I think that people have to understand that being for Rick Santorum does not necessarily mean you're anti-Romney," Land said. "And against Barack Obama, it will not be very difficult at all for Mr. Romney to garner the support of both the evangelicals, unless he were to do something catastrophic, like pick a pro-choice running mate, which I don't think he's going to do."
Land also noted that evangelicals often supported Romney. While most of Rick Santorum's supporters were evangelical, most evangelicals did not vote for Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator would have been doomed without the support of social conservatives. But most evangelicals voted for other candidates, including Romney.
Romney did very well among evangelicals in New England, but received less support in the South. In the battleground states like Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin, Romney received around 40 percent of the evangelical Republican vote.
Gary Bauer, president of American Values, was one of Santorum's supporters who told the New York Times said that he will now support Romney.
"Going to the general election, I will do everything I can for Governor Romney," Bauer said. "But his campaign has got to make it easy for me to help them, and not make it hard by being tempted to pull back on conservative issues."
But what may count most is the support of activists who run the phone banks, knock on doors, and give money. Ralph Reed told CNN that Romney may be able to count on votes, but he needs the grassroots support, too.
"Mitt Romney will win the support of evangelicals and conservatives because his opponent is Barack Obama. But he needs the grassroots enthusiasm of activists who are for him, not just against Obama," Reed said.
Mark DeMoss, an evangelical publicist and a senior advisor to the Romney campaign, told the Huffington Post that the campaign has already been contacted by evangelical political leaders and may convene a summit to discuss issues and build support for the general election.
"I'm optimistic that things are coming together nicely behind Mitt Romney and could do so fairly quickly," DeMoss said. Social conservatives will need to convince Romney that he needs their support. Many live in southern states where Romney should be able to win with or without their enthusiastic support. Social conservatives failed to show that they were capable of mobilizing voters in the Republican primary. Just before the South Carolina primary, leaders from political groups with evangelical constituencies met in Texas to coalesce around a candidate, picking Santorum. A week later, most evangelicals in South Carolina voted for Newt Gingrich.