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Evangelicals Consider Pushing Gingrich, Perry To Drop Out And Back Santorum

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WASHINGTON -- A prominent evangelical Christian said Friday that if Rick Santorum continues to surge in the polls and does well in New Hampshire and South Carolina, Christian leaders are planning to ask Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry to drop out and get behind the former Pennsylvania senator.

"There is real concern that [Mitt] Romney will win without having to face one concentrated effort of a conservative challenger," Richard Land, one of the most well-known Southern Baptist leaders in the nation, told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell.

"What I hear conservatives saying is we need to keep talking about this and we need to let Gingrich and Santorum and Perry continue to make their case, but at some point, earlier rather than later, we need to try to unite all of the social conservative forces around one candidate and have this great debate that so many people want to see between Romney and the non-Romney," said Land, whose official title is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

"Santorum has to do the convincing. He did a lot of convincing in Iowa," Land said. "He's surging. The question is what's going to happen in New Hampshire and then what's going to happen in South Carolina."

"If in South Carolina Santorum outperforms Gingrich and outperforms Perry, then I would think that social conservative leaders could make the case, 'You know, Mr. Gingrich, you've said that Mr. Santorum is a good friend of yours. You have similar views and you've been colleagues for many years. He is running better than you are. How about joining forces with him in Florida?'" Land said. "And then saying the same thing to Perry."

"What I've heard over and over is we don't want to make the same mistake this time that we did with Huckabee in 2008. People didn't rally around Huckabee as the social conservative alternative because they didn't think he could win, until it was too late and McCain had the nomination sewn up," Land said.

Politico's Jonathan Martin reported earlier this week that evangelical leaders are holding a meeting in Texas next week to discuss how to prevent Santorum, former House Speaker Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Texas Gov. Perry from splitting the conservative vote and handing the nomination to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.

Land declined to comment on whether he is attending such a meeting.

Watch the Land interview here:

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