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Rick Santorum Wins Endorsement Of Evangelical Leaders


First Posted: 01/14/2012 12:55 pm Updated: 01/14/2012 1:04 pm

WASHINGTON -- A week before the South Carolina primaries, more than 150 conservative evangelical leaders met in Texas and voted to throw their weight behind former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. The endorsement, which will likely come with grassroots support and fundraising assistance, marks a last-minute effort to help a socially conservative candidate dethrone current frontrunner Mitt Romney.

"Rick Santorum has consistently articulated the issues that are of concern to conservatives, both economic and social," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, speaking on behalf of the attendees. "He has woven those into a very solid platform. And he has a record of stability."

Added Perkins: "He obviously is not up to some of the other candidates in terms of fundraising, but those issues can be corrected. With this strong consensus coming behind him, that can aid in the fundraising that he needs to be successful in the primary."

The group of religious conservative leaders met on Friday and Saturday at the Brenham ranch of former judge and Southern Baptist leader Paul Pressler. The assemblage did not release a full list of its members, although radio host James Dobson, Don Wildmon of the American Family Association and pastor Jon Hagee were among the invited.

Santorum emerged as the winner after three rounds of balloting, with the final vote between him and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Santorum eventually received the support of more than two-thirds of those voting. Texas Gov. Rick Perry also received strong support.

Romney sent a surrogate to address the group, but the former Massachusetts governor received very little backing. Yet his poor showing did not follow some wave of attacks from participants, Perkins said -- they simply did not spend much time thinking about him.

"It was not a bash-Mitt Romney weekend," Perkins said. "This was more of a discussion of the positives of the conservative candidates and their vision for the future, and we focused more on how to get America back on the right road and make America great again."

Perkins added that Romney's Mormon religion was not a factor in the lack of endorsement. "That was not even discussed. If it was, it was a sidenote," he said. Still, he did not mince words in discussing the former Massachusetts governor.

"[I]t's not news that there is not a strong support among conservatives for Mitt Romney," Perkins said. "You've seen that across the country, and that was reflected here."

Perkins said many of the leaders at the Texas gathering were involved in get-out-the-vote efforts in Iowa, where Rick Santorum secured a late endorsement from conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats. A late surge in Iowa put Santorum in a close second place there, just eight votes behind Romney.

Santorum's campaign did not return a request for comment on Saturday's announcement.

The evangelicals who gathered in Texas this weekend included leaders with networks in both South Carolina and Florida, which is holding its primary contest on Jan. 31.

Even though many of the members felt strongly about other candidates, Perkins said, the desire to oust President Barack Obama moved them toward a consensus -- a lesson they learned after splintering four years ago.

"Part of the backdrop of this meeting was not to see what happened in 2008 repeated again, where conservatives either stayed on the sidelines or were fragmented among the several conservative candidates, allowing a moderate candidate to emerge -- John McCain -- who was not successful in securing the presidency," he said.

However, he said, there was no discussion at the meeting about urging other candidates to drop out of the race

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