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Religious Right Endorses Santorum; Aims to Stop Romney in South Carolina

At a weekend meeting of Christian conservative leaders, participants agreed to rally evangelicals to support Rick Santorum.
 
 
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 Just as things were looking like a clear sail for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, a gale has blown in. At a weekend meeting in Texas of religious right leaders -- including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, and Gary Bauer of American Values -- participants agreed to coalesce behind former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in a bid to sway the largely evangelical base that will determine the outcome of the South Carolina presidential primary.

"The desire was not to repeat what took place in 2008," Perkins said on conference call with reporters, in answer to a question posed by Slate's David Weigel. What happened in the last presidential campaign was that the religious right failed to embrace former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (who believes in public schools and arts education), and they wound up with U.S. Sen. John McCain as the G.O.P. presidential candidate, whom they deemed to be a moderate.

Around 150 influentials in the religious right converged on the ranch of Paul Pressler, a retired justice of the Texas Court of Appeals and a director of the right-wing Salem Communications, to try to arrive at something close to a consensus on a candidate. It took three ballots to get to an agreement, if not a consensus, according to Perkins. The aim was to reach an agreement of two-thirds of those gathered at the Pressler ranch. Of 114 participants in the final ballot, 89 voted for Santorum, Perkins said.

In the end, it came down to a contest between Santorum and the better-funded and organized former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Perkins said, with Rep. Ron Paul and Gov. Rick Perry -- both, ironically, of Texas -- being knocked off after the first ballot. The campaigns were permitted to have surrogates speak for them at the meeting, and Romney did indeed send a surrogate, which appeared to be little more than an exercise in politeness.

When asked by a report whether there was any discussion of the evolution of Romney's "pro-life views," Perkins replied, "I don't believe there was much discussion of that."

Romney moved on to South Carolina the very night that he won the New Hampshire primary. A survey by Public Policy Polling concluded yesterday, January 13, showed Romney ahead of the pack with 29 percent, and Gingrich following close behind with 24 percent. Santorum, by contrast, was drawing a mere 14 percent.

"There was a sense that this would be exactly the right time, going into South Carolina...," Perkins said. "South Carolina is more reflective of the social conservative movement, with a higher percentage of social conservative voters," Perkins said, adding that social conservatives make up about 55 percent of the general electorate, and 40 percent of primary voters.

Why throw in with the candidate who is trailing in a distant third place? Perkins seemed to intimate that Gingrich, despite his strength in current South Carolina polls, is carrying too much baggage -- what, with his three marriages, ethics cloud, and lust for the blue boxes of Tiffany & Co. -- to win in the general election. Of the participants in the meeting, Perkins said, "There is this agreement on the need to defeat Barack Obama."

Perkins seemed undaunted by the hurdles Santorum faces in fundraising and organization, especially when compared to Gingrich. Now that his folks are behind the Pennsylvania senator, he argued, he won't want for either. 

"Will you start a massive fundraising drive?" asked Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Dave Montgomery. "Will these groups appeal to their members?"

"It will be a combination of all of the above," Perkins replied. "You have a number of political activists; you have organizations with PACs; you have political financiers. It will not necessarily be a coordinated effort, but this is a group of people with different backgrounds who share a passion for the country, for restoring the moral standards and economic viability for our future."

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Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. She also writes for the AFL-CIO Now blog. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/addiestan 

 

 

AlterNet / By Adele M. Stan

Posted at January 14, 2012, 7:23am

 
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