Tony Perkins announces evangelical support for Rick Santorum

posted at 2:30 pm on January 14, 2012 by Tina Korbe

At a major meeting in Texas this weekend, a group of 150 Christian leaders and conservative activists defied expectations and actually managed to coalesce around a single candidate.

Surrogates for Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum (no one for Jon Huntsman) made their pitches; the evangelicals considered them. On Saturday morning, they voted, and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins held a call to debrief the media. He saw white smoke.

“What I did not think was possible appears to be possible,” said Perkins. After three rounds of balloting, “there emerged a strong consensus around Rick Santorum as the preferred candidate of this room.” It was a “clear, clear majority.”

Without doubt, this will be a major morale boost for the Santorum campaign — and a blow to the Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry camps — but whether it can morph into something more remains to be seen. Before the meeting, experts doubted that the group of aging activists would be able to alter the race much at this point in the nominating process:

But does the group stand a chance of reshaping the race? There are reasons for doubt: many of the leaders convening in Texas are well past their primes, with declining influence, and the nominating contest is already pretty far along.

One candidate – Mitt Romney – has won the first two contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, and the South Carolina primary comes just a week after the Texas meeting.

“Some of these evangelical leaders are not as active as they once were in politics and the evangelical movement has changed a little overtime,” says John Green, a political scientist from the University of Akron. “Where this group could have an effect is if they coalesced around one candidate and then helped to provide resources.”

Boots on the ground, phone lists, robocalls, and even the possibility of an evangelical super PAC could move the needle for a candidate, Green said. But the time for such resource-intensive mobilization is growing thin.

Now that the group has demonstrated its ability to do the improbable by coalescing around one guy, it seems possible that they could also do the practical and provide actual, tangible resources to Santorum’s campaign. Maybe they should all board the same plane for South Carolina, where Santorum is far behind in the polls. At the very least, they’ll begin to mobilize their own constituencies for Santorum.

The Christian leaders insist they didn’t meet to brainstorm a way to stop Mitt Romney. One said it was an “anti-Obama meeting,” while another said he’s more concerned to stop Ron Paul than Mitt Romney. It’s obvious they haven’t been overly enthusiastic about Romney’s likely nomination, but Perkins said they didn’t overly discuss the former Massachusetts governor — and that his Mormonism came up not once.

Still, it’s clear they didn’t choose Santorum on the basis of his conservative credentials alone. Perkins said they overlooked Rick Perry, for example, because, while they liked his record, they had concerns about his electability. Santorum’s strong showing in Iowa surely nudged the group in his direction.


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