Jan 15, 2012

Evangelical Divide Remains in GOP Presidential Battle

Russ JonesBy Russ Jones

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While supporters of Newt Gingrich acknowledge Rick Santorum won the support of most evangelicals attending a weekend meeting in Texas, they say their candidate still has some important pro-family leaders in their camp.

In a scramble to find an alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, nearly 150 social conservatives met in the Lone Star state Saturday to discuss the Republican primary race and top policy goals. The gathering was prompted in an attempt to prevent what happened in 2008, when former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee won Iowa but quickly faltered when he was unable to unite conservatives behind him.

Surrogates for Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were present to speak on behalf of their candidate. Jon Huntsman’s campaign was not represented.

“What I did not think was possible appears to be possible,” said Family Research Council’s President Tony Perkins in a conference call to reporters. 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.”

Perkin’s noted Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum were the obvious favorites after the first ballot. Perry, however, did not receive enough votes to make it to the final round of balloting.

Described as a "vigorous and passionate" discussion about who would make the best president, Perkins said eventually people made concessions to their views in order to coalesce around one candidate.

But a super PAC for Newt Gingrich says there is anything but consensus coming out of Texas.

“The Evangelical community still holds a divergent opinion on who the nominee should be,” Rick Tyler, senior advisor to Winning Our Future PAC, a pro-Gingrich group, told OneNewsNow.com. “Rick Santorum won a straw poll that had a questionable methodology.”

Of the 150 registered attendees, only 114 voted in the final paper ballot—Santorum received 85 of those votes, a smaller total as some had to leave early to catch flights.

“Rick has a very good record on evangelical issues but has no ability to beat Mitt Romney and less so for Barak Obama,” said Tyler. “Endorsing Rick only serves to help Romney who has a terrible record on the issues evangelicals care about.”

Tim and Beverly LaHayeTyler added that at least nine Gingrich supporters did not attend the meeting. He also said such notable evangelicals like Don Wildmon, American Family Association founder, Beverly LaHaye, founder of Concerned Women of America, Pastor Tim LaHaye, Jim Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church and Prop 1 organizer, leading Christian researcher George Barna, former congressman JC Watts, Thomas Sowell, a conservative thought leader, Richard Lee, founding pastor of First Redeemer Church in Atlanta, Georgia and Mat Staver, dean of Liberty Law School have all endorsed Gingrich.

Perkins noted that it will be up to the various ministry organizations who voted for Santorum at the Texas meeting to determine how they will express their support.

"You will see these organizations engaging openly on his behalf—especially in the state of South Carolina," Perkins said. "We believe that with strong consensus coming behind him that can aid in the fundraising that he will need to be successful in the primary."

Just a week before the South Carolina primary, according to the most recent American Research Group survey, 29 percent of likely Palmetto State GOP primary voters say they're supporting Mitt Romney, with 25 percent supporting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Texas Rep. Ron Paul is at 20 percent. Romney's four-point margin over Gingrich is within the poll's sampling error.

The same poll has Santorum at 7 percent, Huntsman at 1 percent and 7 percent undecided

Related Links

Tim LaHaye Endorses Gingrich; National Organization for Marriage Head Supports Santorum • Christian Post
Santorum Reacts to Key Social Conservative Endorsement • FOX News
GOP candidates in S.C. battle for evangelical vote • Washington Post
Religious Leaders Back Santorum Over Romney, Gingrich • Bloomberg
New satirical ad in South Carolina suggests Mitt Romney may be a ‘serial killer’ • Daily Caller