Evangelical Leaders to Endorse Rick Santorum for President

Politics   Steven Ertelt   Jan 14, 2012   |   2:22PM    Washington, DC

After a Friday-Saturday meeting with more than 150 leaders and representatives of evangelical, pro-family and pro-life groups, the organizations have declared consensus support for Rick Santorum’s Republican presidential campaign.

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council and a participant in last night’s private meeting, addressed a press conference call today to provide additional information about the decision and expected endorsements from some of those attending.

Perkins said the leaders of the evangelical groups came to the meeting each supporting the various different GOP candidates seeking to replace pro-abortion President Barack Obama. Participants engaged in a question and answer session with representatives of each of the campaigns, except for former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who did not send a spokesman to the event.

After the session, the leaders discussed the presidential race amongst themselves and then undertook a three-round ballot process. Perkins said the discussion culminated in an agreement that the groups and leaders each have “an overriding passion and desire to defeat Barack Obama” this November. Although the leaders of the various organizations strongly support various candidates, they eventually decided to support Santorum.

“I think it was vigorous discussion of who they felt best represented the conservative movement and who they think had the best chance of succeeding,” he said, but adding that there would not be a “coordinated effort” amongst the groups and leaders to endorse Santorum.

“There is a hope and expectation that those represented by the constituency will make a difference in South Carolina,” he said, adding that some in attendance threw their support behind Santorum to avoid having a repeat of 2008 where conservative candidates split the vote.

Perkins indicated Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry but only Gingrich and Santorum made the final ballot. There were 114 votes on the final ballot, as some leaders had to catch returning flights home, and Santorum emerged with a majority (85) of those voting, the FRC president said.

UPDATE: Later Saturday, Santorum responded to the news with a statement LifeNews received:

“This is an endorsement that was coveted by every campaign, and I am deeply honored by their support – it is a great day for our campaign. The process has worked, the voters have gotten a chance to hear from every candidate and explore their records. This endorsement is another indication that it is time to coalesce behind the full spectrum conservative in this race who will fight for their values and won’t waiver when times get tough. Now is the time to stop a moderate from becoming our Party’s nominee and to unite behind the one candidate who draws the sharpest contrasts with Barack Obama. I am thankful for this outpouring of support and for the momentum that is building behind our candidacy. Together, in the Fall, we can defeat Barack Obama and restore America.”

UPDATE: Politico is reporting former Focus on the Family president and pro-life advocate James Dobson will issue an endorsement for Santorum this week. Also, former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who already endorsed Santorum, will make a round of calls to South Carolina voters on his behalf.

Perkins told LifeNews that individual evangelical groups and leaders will issue Santorum endorsements in the coming days and they will make endorsements public, fundraise, provide grassroots backing for Santorum in the coming days before the South Carolina primary. Some leaders and groups that support other candidates may not withdraw that support and back Santorum, he said.

“The group spent a good bit of time praying for unity and for consensus that could communicate the seriousness of the position this country is in,” Perkins said. “We don’t need to just change jerseys. We need to change the way we do business.”

The leaders of the evangelical groups believed Santorum has the best chance of succeeding, Perkins said, and he said they disagree with the notion that the primary election is wrapped up with Mitt Romney as the most likely to win. “It is far from over,” he said of the primary election, saying few GOP convention delegates have been awarded to candidates at this time.

Perkins says the meeting of top evangelical leaders was not a bash Romney session, but focused on the favorite consensus candidate of the groups. He told LifeNews that there was little discussion of whether Romney is a truly pro-life candidate and said it was not a meeting to bash other candidates but to find one to support as a whole. Perkins added that, should Romney become the nominee, those participating will likely support him over Obama.

The names and groups participating were not released, but Perkins mentioned former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer as another organizer of the private meeting. He said the names of organizations and leaders participating will become public as they begin making endorsements.

The news is excellent for the Santorum camp, which needs a concerted effort behind him to be able to rebound from his third place standing in the South Carolina polls. Unlike Mike Huckabee, who received an Iowa bounce like Santorum in 2008 but could not win South Carolina without such a concerted endorsement effort, this support from evangelical groups could provide Santorum the lift he needs to have a better shot at toppling Romney from the top spot.

Last week, the pro-life group CatholicVote issued an endorsement for Santorum. Most of the top single issue prolife organizations have not issued endorsements for any candidates, including National Right to Life, the Susan B. Anthony List, and Americans United for Life.