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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Christian Leaders Vote to Support Rick Santorum as Republican Nominee

An influential bloc of Christian conservative leaders have backed Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, as their choice in the Republican presidential race. 

Rick Santorum could now surge as he did in Iowa.   Photo: REUTERS
From The Telegraph
By Philip Sherwell

The support of the group of 150 evangelical power-brokers is a major boost for the prospects of Mr Santorum, who nearly snatched a surprise victory in the Iowa caucus.

The decision is also a setback for the prospects of a quick victory in the nomination battle for Mitt Romney, who has emerged as the Republican frontrunner after his narrow win in Iowa and comfortable victory in the New Hampshire primary.

Mr Romney is a Mormon, a faith that is viewed as a cult by many evangelicals, and he has struggled to win the support of social conservatives after once supporting abortion rights and gay rights.

The Christian leaders who met at a Texan ranch on Friday and Saturday had not been expected to settle on one candidate – a split outcome that would have been ideal for Mr Romney.

The result was also a significant blow to Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who is currently running second in the opinion polls to Mr Romney in South Carolina, the next primary state to vote on Jan 21.
Mr Santorum could now surge as he did in Iowa if social conservative voters, who dominate the electorate in South Carolina, coalesce behind him.

Supporters of Mr Santorum, Mr Gingrich, Rick Perry, the Texas governor, Ron Paul, the maverick libertarian, and even a handful for Mr Romney had made the case for their candidates at the Texas summit.

After two rounds of voting, 115 of the 150 present backed Mr Santorum in a third ballot.

"What I did not think was possible appears to be possible," said Tony Perkins, leader of the Family Research Council and a spokesman for the group.

"There emerged a strong consensus around Rick Santorum. While there was not a lot of hope that we could reach consensus around one candidate, that was achieved."

Mr Perkins emphasised that there would be no calls for Mr Santorum's conservative rivals to drop out to clear the way for him. Nor would there be a co-ordinated official campaign to support him, he said.

But the imprimatur of such a powerful group will clearly be a major boost for a candidate long considered a rank outsider in the Republican race to challenge Barack Obama for the White House.

There will be an immediate test of the impact in South Carolina where about 60 percent of voters in 2008 described themselves as evangelical Christians.

Mr Gingrich has consistently polled ahead of Mr Santorum in the state, but Iowa demonstrated the scope for late changes of momentum.

Mr Perkins said that some Gingrich supporters at the Texas meeting switched their allegiance to Mr Santorum when it became clear that he was the most popular candidate.

The motivation, he said, was a fear of repeating what many social conservatives viewed as a disaster in 2008. John McCain, an unpopular figure with many Christian leaders, won the Republication nomination that year over a divided field of rivals who had tried to win evangelical backing.

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