Battle For Social Conservatives Heats Up As Santorum Wins Key Endorsement
Dozens of evangelicals and other conservative leaders decided Saturday to rally around Rick Santorum for the Republican presidential nomination, after meeting in Texas to try and pick a consensus candidate.
The decision comes amid speculation that, among social conservatives reluctant to support frontrunner Mitt Romney, indecision over which GOP candidate to back could end up splitting their vote in the upcoming South Carolina primary — in turn, helping Romney. The former Massachusetts governor has meanwhile launched a campaign to appeal to the values voter base, with new ads aimed at allaying concerns about his abortion record.
The meeting in Texas over the weekend was an attempt by conservative leaders to settle on a single, alternative candidate. It’s unclear what impact the endorsement of the 150 or so leaders will have. Polls show Romney leading in South Carolina, while voters who don’t support the former Massachusetts governor are mostly torn among Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Santorum.
The call to back Santorum was only finalized after three rounds of ballots. On the third ballot, Santorum received 85 of 114 votes cast — some conservative leaders who had been backing Gingrich changed their votes in the end to support Santorum. The group rallied around the idea that Santorum, and not Gingrich, is the candidate best able to beat President Obama in November.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, expressed surprise that the group agreed to back Santorum by such a wide margin, after failing to come together in support of a single candidate in 2008. In that race, the group didn’t even meet until the primary race was basically over. This time, according to J.P. Duffy of the Family Research Council, the group wanted to come together “before it was too late.”
The conservative leaders met Friday night and again on Saturday. According to Perkins, those at the summit listed repealing the federal health care overhaul as their top concern, followed by the national debt and abortion. The meeting took place at a pastor’s ranch 90 miles outside of Austin — every candidate except Jon Huntsman had surrogates at the summit to make presentations.
Perkins said he thinks the endorsement will have an influence in South Carolina. But the other candidates aren’t ready to let Santorum claim that mantle.
Paul was out with a scathing attack on Santorum’s conservative credentials Saturday, releasing an ad that slammed Santorum for backing increases in the debt ceiling while serving in the Senate. The ad called Santorum “another serial hypocrite who can’t be trusted.”