Evangelical Super-Group Endorses Rick Santorum

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 14 2012 12:49 PM

Evangelical Super-Group Endorses Rick Santorum

On Friday night, more than a hundred evangelical conservative leaders started huddling in Texas, trying to decide on a consensus candidate for president. Surrogates for Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul (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," more than two-thirds of 114 votes, by the time other candidates were dropped off the ballot.

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What did it mean? No one was calling for Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich to leave the race, even though the assemblenge included supporters of both candidates. "That," said Perkins, "was not even part of the discussion." There would not, officially, be some new campaign for Santorum by a union of these evangelicals. "It will not be a coordinated effort," said Perkins.

Practically, what would it mean for the the next primary? "There is a hope and expectation that those represented by the constituency will make a difference in South Carolina," said Perkins. But in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich has consistently polled ahead of Santorum, and in the room, Gingrich had the second-largest amount of support. There were, said Perkins, people who switched their allegiance to Santorum anyway, for fear of repeating what is remembered as a disaster: The 2008 nomination of John McCain over a divided field of people who'd actually tried to win over evangelicals.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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