Does a Group of Evangelicals Risk Irrelevance by Backing Santorum?
A group of 150 leaders from Christian conservative organizations met in Texas this weekend. The goal was simple: coalesce around a single candidate who could defeat Mitt Romney (in the primaries) and Barack Obama (in the general election). Going into the meeting, the participants agreed that if they could decide upon a candidate, then they would all support him. After several rounds of voting, Rick Santorum won.
Backing a single candidate could be a political gamble. Win, and they could become kingmakers. Lose, and they could risk irrelevancy.
For social conservatives, it was a bet worth taking. The Republican primary was turning into a lost opportunity. A majority of primary voters preferred a more conservative candidate to the frontrunner Romney, but social conservatives were splitting their vote among several candidates, allowing Romney to win. The gathering in Texas was a last ditch attempt to bring social conservatives together behind one candidate.
According to Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, there were three rounds of voting. Rick Perry, who was a favorite of many social conservatives last summer, failed to make it past the first round. In the final round, Santorum beat out Newt Gingrich by a vote of 85 to 29.
Those in attendance are expected to make statements supporting Santorum. James Dobson will publicly endorse Santorum this week, according to Politico. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is not expected to endorse a candidate, but he will discuss social conservatives in the campaign on C-SPAN Sunday.
Gary Bauer, president of Campaign for Working Families, endorsed Santorum last week and spoke in favor of him at the Texas meeting.
"The main 'pillars' of Senator Santorum's governing philosophy—smaller, Constitutionally based government, lower taxes, a strong and confident American role in the world to keep our nation safe, a commitment to defending America's families and defending the sanctity of life—[are] exactly the blueprint to put America back on the right track," Bauer said.
Time's Mark Halperin asked Santorum about the group's endorsement. "To my knowledge they've never done something like this," Santorum said. "Hopefully this is the type of information that will encourage [voters] to do what maybe in their hearts they were already thinking of doing."
Santorum needs voters to be encouraged. According to a recent poll by Public Policy Polling, Romney is leading in South Carolina with 29 percent support among likely Republican voters. Gingrich is second with 25 percent. Santorum is currently fourth with just 14 percent.
The primary—the only poll that matters—will be held Saturday. That leaves less than a week for social conservative leaders to convince voters in South Carolina to back their newly backed candidate.
Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.