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Rick Santorum Scores Endorsement From Leading Iowa Conservative Bob Vander Plaats Of The Family Leader

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WASHINGTON -- Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum received a boost to his presidential campaign Tuesday, picking up the endorsement of a leading social conservative in Iowa.

Standing in front of a Christmas tree wrapped with tinsel and lights, Bob Vander Plaats, head of the right-wing Christian group the Family Leader, said he was throwing his support behind Santorum, who is perhaps the most socially conservative candidate in the GOP presidential race.

"Today, I -- as an individual -- am going to endorse Rick Santorum," said Vander Plaats. "I'm going to mobilize whatever resources I have at my disposal to advocate for him. I will not tear down another candidate, because we have other good candidates in this race, and if one of those candidates emerge as our nominee, I will get fully behind that candidate."

The Family Leader, however, will be staying neutral in the Iowa caucuses, after its board voted unanimously to not get behind any single candidate. Vander Plaats' fellow activist Chuck Hurley also endorsed Santorum at Tuesday's event.

"There's a lot of good people out here running, and I'm sure it was a tough decision. I think it shows that we're the candidate right now that has the momentum that has the message that's resonating to the people of Iowa," Santorum told the Des Moines Register after finding out about the news.

In 2008 Vander Plaats ran former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's Iowa operation; Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses despite heavy investment in the state from Mitt Romney. Vander Plaats said he called Santorum after the Ames straw poll in August and told him that "he could be the Huckabee in this race."

Vander Plaats specifically cited Santorum's opposition to abortion access and LGBT rights as part of the reason he supports him, saying he "has been a stalwart and soldier for the sanctity of human life and God's design for the family in one man and one woman marriage."

Tuesday's endorsement came as a bit of a surprise, since it was believed that Vander Plaats was backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But there is nothing shocking ideologically in Vander Plaats' support of Santorum.

During the summer, Santorum became the second candidate to sign the Family Leader's marriage plan -- following Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) -- vowing to "uphold the institution of marriage as only between one man and one woman," as the pledge reads. The pledge initially asked candidates to say they would ban all forms of pornography, said being gay was a health risk and attracted significant controversy for saying that blacks were more likely to live in stable marriages under slavery than they are now. The Family Leader eventually backed down over its pornography and slavery language.

Vander Plaats also controversially ran a campaign to oust three judges on Iowa's Supreme Court last year after they voted to legalize same-sex marriages.

Santorum heavily lobbied for Vander Plaats' backing, telling Fox News recently, "It'd be a great boost for us. Whoever gets this endorsement is clearly going to have the edge."

Santorum also recently picked up the endorsement of Sioux City pastor Cary Gordon, who is committed to helping elect social conservatives.

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