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Rick Santorum Gets New Life with Social Conservative Boost

The candidate has received mixed support from evangelical voters in previous primaries.

Rick Santorum surprised many by winning all three Republican contests yesterday in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota, suggesting that none of the Republican candidates have found a way to win consistently across the wide range of caucuses and primaries.

Santorum showed once again that he can win in states where he can talk face-to-face with social conservatives. He barnstormed through the states, personally meeting with many conservative activists. The strategy worked. Santorum's margin of victory was unexpectedly wide.

The former senator from Pennsylvania won nearly twice the number of the votes in Missouri that Romney received (55 vs. 25 percent). In Minnesota, he received nearly three times the votes as Romney (45 vs. 17 percent). Romney performed better in Colorado than he did in other states, but Santorum still edged him out 40 to 35 percent.

"I don't stand here and claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," Santorum said. "I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama."

A key to Santorum's victory was an excited, social conservative base willing to go to polls and caucuses, observers suggested. Santorum's evangelical base has proven to be more important in Midwestern states where social conservatives can mobilize voters to attend caucuses.

Santorum focused on his conservative base in his victory speech. Before the results from Colorado were announced, Santorum told a crowd of supporters that "Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota."

While Santorum has consistently received most of his support from evangelicals, he has not been able to secure their votes in every contest. In other words, evangelical primary voters have strongly supported Santorum, but a majority of them have not always voted for Santorum.

In Iowa, evangelicals pushed him just over the finish line. In New Hampshire, Romney received a greater share of the evangelical vote than Santorum did even as evangelical support for Santorum was nearly four times that from other voters.

Santorum still needs to prove he can attract evangelical support in southern states. South Carolina evangelicals gave more support to Newt Gingrich. Florida evangelicals, however, mirrored other voters in backing Romney and Gingrich. Santorum lost South Carolina and the panhandle of Florida to Newt Gingrich because Gingrich, a former congressman from Georgia, captured more of the evangelical vote.

A week before the South Carolina primary, a group of evangelicals representing conservative political groups met and endorsed Santorum who rose to national prominence after his virtual tie with Mitt Romney in Iowa. In South Carolina, evangelical primary voters threw their support behind Gingrich. This support by so-called family value voters for the thrice married Gingrich led one long-time activist Tony Campolo to formerly renounce the label "evangelical" for his group Red Letter Christians. Evangelicals in South Carolina, Campolo said, had put politics before principles.

The next two primaries will take place in Arizona and Michigan before Super Tuesday. Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia will hold primaries on March 6. Super Tuesday will be the first test to see if any of the candidates can win outside their niche groups. If none of the candidates can break new ground, the race may be moving closer to a divided Republican national convention.

Related Topics:Politics
Posted:February 8, 2012 at 5:26PM
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Rick Santorum Gets New Life with Social Conservative Boost