Conservative Republicans Remain Split
A win for Newt Gingrich in South Carolina on Saturday is unlikely to settle the debate among social conservatives about which candidate to rally behind for the Republican presidential nomination, conservative leaders say.
“This is far from being settled,” Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said Saturday, before polls in South Carolina closed. “The path to the nomination just got a lot longer out of South Carolina.”
Just a few weeks ago, many thought South Carolina’s primary would crown former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the party’s pick, or at least narrow his rivals to a single conservative candidate. Former Sen. Rick Santorum seemed to have a claim on that role after a group of prominent conservative Christian leaders threw their support behind him last weekend after a two-day meeting about the nominating contest in Texas.
Now, Mr. Gingrich shows signs of gathering the momentum to become the leading alternative to Mr. Romney. But the competition for the party’s most-conservative voters shows few signs of ending.
Some in the GOP say Mr. Santorum could try to draw more support from the Christian conservative leaders who backed him last weekend. “If Santorum could convince those people to use their fairly significant resources and reach out to their very significant supporters, that could make a difference and stop this from becoming a race between Gingrich and Romney,” said Rich Galen, a former aide to Mr. Gingrich, who is unaffiliated in this race. “If that doesn’t happen, then I think Florida may well be Santorum’s last stand.” Florida holds the next Republican primary, on Jan. 31.
Even if Mr. Gingrich wins in South Carolina with conservative support, parts of his personal history could prove to be a complication.
Many conservatives feel Mr. Santorum is more trustworthy as a steward of conservative values, citing his tenure in Congress and the prominent role in his campaign of social issues, such as his opposition to abortion rights.