In what could be a game-changer for the Republican nomination, former US Senator Rick Santorum got a big “Thumbs Up” from a group of Christian Conservatives, which included political leaders, businessmen and pastors.
Over 75% of those voting at the meeting, which was held Saturday in Texas, chose to support Santorum over former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry, each of whom has been trying to convince voters that he is the “real” conservative in the race.
The group of evangelicals met to decide who they would support as an alternative to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Although Romney is seen as a conservative in many areas, they expressed distrust of his candidacy in social areas because he has changed his position on abortion and homosexual marriage. Along with many other social conservatives, they fear that Romney’s change of heart in these areas might have been politically motivated, rather than being based on conviction.
They view the three-way split of support from social conservatives among Santorum, Perry and Gingrich as dangerous, because unless a clear front-runner emerges to champion social conservatism, they fear that Romney will run away with the nomination. Polls in the states with upcoming primaries indicate that Santorum could beat Romney if Gingrich and Perry were out of the race.
Attendees flew in from all over the country because these leaders see a need for Conservatives to unite behind one contender before the South Carolina primaries. Although the vote was not unanimous, the “super majority” of 75% has given the Santorum campaign a real boost.
“There is a hope and an expectation that this will have an impact on South Carolina,” said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who attended the Texas meeting.
"They were all looking for the best Reagan conservative," said former presidential candidate Gary Bauer. "It came down to things like, who do you most trust."
"It is having an impact on the South Carolina voters," said Renee Woodberry, 43, Santorum’s Florence County captain. "We are conservative, Bible Belt, movement conservatives here. I've had a lot of voters tell me they were undecided, and that because of the fact that the evangelicals have endorsed him that's what's making up their minds."
"I can't believe it was only 25 percent" who didn’t agree with the majority, said Santorum, noting that there were many Texans in the group, whom one would expect to endorse their Governor, as well as many longtime activists who have had long relationships with Gingrich.
Santorum stressed that he is not only a social conservative. He made it clear that he is a fervent economic conservative, and a strong defense conservative. And he is a long-time supporter of Israel, an area that some of the Republican candidates are weak on.
Romney has been stressing the fact that he won the first two contests. But the fact is that he had the hometown advantage in New Hampshire, a state where real conservatives seldom do well. And his “win” in Iowa was a virtual tie; he bested Santorum by only EIGHT votes out of 60,022 votes cast for the two candidates. That’s a difference of 1/100 of 1%.
The bottom line is that, whether or not Romney has truly had a change of heart concerning abortion or not, social conservatives don’t trust him. They are going to vote for Santorum, Gingrich, or Perry. Gingrich does not support a Constitutional ban on abortions. Santorum does. Perry originally said that it was a matter for the states to decide, but has now changed to supporting a ban.
Let me get personal for a moment. Before he got into the race, I liked what I heard about Perry. But then he opened his mouth. Perry has been his own worst enemy. No one bothers running attack ads against him; he does it for them. Also, I have traveled to Texas numerous times this year on speaking engagements, and could find very few Texans who support him. Finally, he indicated that he was considering quitting the evening of the Iowa caucuses. Then the next day he announced that he would continue. That indicates to me that he does not have the heart that it takes to fight this battle to the end. And Obama would chew him up and spit him out in a debate.
Newt could probably beat Obama in a debate, but not in an election. I have spoken personally to Newt Gingrich three times. Prior to the last two elections I encouraged him to run. I had breakfast with him at the Conservative Political Action meeting in Orlando, and was impressed by what he had to say. I like the fact that he is a historian; every president should have a sound knowledge of history. But I don’t believe he can win the nomination because so many conservatives mistrust him. He has done way too much “reaching across the aisle” for conservatives to believe he is (as he claims to be) a “Reagan Conservative.” Doing a commercial supporting the global warming myth with Nancy Pelosi sitting next to him effectively squashed that claim.
That leaves Rick Santorum. And I don’t say that in a “He’s the last man standing, so I will support him” kind of way. It has been hard to get to know any of the candidates well with over 100 Republicans running. But now that the field has narrowed and I have gotten a chance to know Santorum better, I am very impressed. He knows the economy and has sound ideas on how to fix the damage that Obama has done to it. He supports a strong military at a time when Obama is working to keep his campaign promise to cut the military budget by 50%. And he understands foreign policy, including the Islamic threat that Obama downplays. Finally, he is the only candidate who has successfully run campaigns against tough Democrat opponents. And Obama will be tough to beat, make no mistake about it.
I hope Rick Santorum makes a strong showing in South Carolina and shows the nation that a man of principle, one who does not change positions every time he changes his socks, can win the support of real conservatives.