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Saturday, Aug 23, 2014

Analysis: Can Santorum Unite the Evangelical Vote?

  • (Photo: Reuters/John Gress)
    Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum pauses as he address his Iowa Caucus night rally in Johnston, Iowa, January 3, 2012.
January 4, 2012|6:59 pm

After Rick Santorum's surprising showing in Tuesday's Iowa caucus, evangelicals are reassessing the role they can play in the Republican presidential nomination process.

This weekend, a group of social conservative leaders will hold an “emergency” meeting in Texas to discuss the best path forward in the current race, according to Politico. The meeting is hosted by James Dobson, formerly of Focus on the Family; Don Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association; and Gary Bauer, former head of the Family Research Council and presidential candidate in 2000.

They are concerned that social conservatives, which includes many evangelicals, will split their vote and allow Mitt Romney (their least preferred candidate among the top tier) to win.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum lost to Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, by only eight votes in Iowa. Santorum was in fifth or sixth place throughout most of the race. His stunning last minute surge that led to his photo finish with Romney was partly due to evangelicals gravitating to his campaign in the final weeks.

With the campaign moving on to New Hampshire and South Carolina, can Santorum, a Catholic, continue to gain the support of enough evangelicals to win?

The entrance polls for the Iowa caucus show that about one-third of evangelicals voted for Santorum. Ron Paul got the second most evangelical votes with 19 percent, slightly less than the 22 percent of the overall vote total he received.

Iowa evangelicals split their votes among the rest of the candidates. Gingrich, Romney and Perry each got 14 percent and Bachmann got five percent.

Bachmann was not much of a factor and is now out of the race. And Paul will likely not be abandoned by evangelicals who already support him, since they voted for him despite his well-known libertarianism and unique views (among the candidates) on foreign policy. Romney is not doing anything in particular to reach out to evangelical voters and may continue to carry 10 to 20 percent of them. This leaves Gingrich, Perry and Santorum to fight for the remaining evangelical vote.

South Carolina will be the next primary with a large evangelical population. Perry's decision to remain in the race, and skip the New Hampshire primary, suggests that he believes he can compete with Santorum for the evangelical vote there.

While getting trounced by Santorum in Iowa might suggest that Perry does not have a chance in South Carolina, he may be counting on his Southern heritage to help him relate to voters there. Additionally, some of his supporters are backing a religious rally in South Carolina just days before the South Carolina primary.

In August, before Perry entered the race, he attended a prayer rally in Texas called “The Response.” While the rally was not explicitly political, it helped establish Perry's evangelical credentials with potential evangelical voters. The same organization held a rally in Iowa about a month before the Iowa caucus and it has rallies scheduled for South Carolina four days before the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary, and Florida a week before the Florida primary.

While “The Response” may help Perry with certain evangelicals, it may turn off, or at least not excite, other segments of evangelicals. “The Response” is sponsored by the American Family Association, one of the older Christian Right organizations around today.

In an editorial for CNN, Chris LaTondresse, founder and CEO of Recovering Evangelical, which represents young evangelicals, suggests that Santorum's style and issue concerns appeal to younger evangelicals more than Rick Perry's style and issue concerns.

LaTondresse specifically mentions Perry's appearance at “The Response,” and writes, “So when young evangelicals see Republicans ripping pages out of the political playbooks of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and the Religious Right, it’s more likely to induce eye rolling than shouts of 'amen.'”

“The worst offenders in the Republican primary? Look no further than Rick Perry’s commercial promising to 'end Obama’s war on religion,' or Michele Bachmann’s speech at Liberty University appealing to the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.”

LaTondresse notes that Santorum bested Bachmann and Perry among evangelicals even though he does not make the same type of explicit appeals to evangelicals that they have. He also notes that Santorum shares the concerns of many younger evangelicals for the poor and vulnerable. He worked with President George W. Bush on funding to combat AIDS in Africa, has worked with Bono on the ONE campaign, and criticized presidential candidate Herman Cain's “9-9-9” tax plan for the negative impact it would have on the poor.

“More than any other Republican candidate (and even more than some Democrats), Santorum speaks openly and passionately about his concern for poor and vulnerable people in the U.S. and around the world,” LaTondresse wrote.

Gary Marx, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an advocacy organization representing the concerns of social conservatives, told The Christian Post on Wednesday that LaTondresse makes a fair argument regarding Santorum's appeal to younger evangelicals.

“He's been more on the side of talking about the poor and compassionate conservative concepts and that is something that does bridge out to younger evangelicals,” Marx said.

Laura Olson, a professor of political science at Clemson University, Greenville, S.C., who specializes in the study of religion and politics, also agrees with LaTondresse. Santorum is similar to Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who had the strong support of evangelicals when he ran for president in 2008, Olson said in an email to The Christian Post.

“Like Huckabee, Santorum is able to speak authentically to younger evangelicals (in the Rick Warren mold) about 'life' issues more broadly construed. Santorum's campaign is also much more believable than Perry's, because of how Perry overplayed the religion theme in his campaign,” Olson wrote.

Marx also points out, however, that young evangelicals, much like the young in general, do not vote in as high numbers as older evangelicals. So, Santorum should not rely too much upon this demographic. He also needs older evangelicals.

If Perry and/or Gingrich are still in the race when South Carolina holds its Jan. 21 primary, Marx believes a scenario similar to South Carolina's 2008 primary will occur.

In 2008, Huckabee had the support of evangelicals but needed to win in South Carolina to continue to do well against Sen. John McCain, who had become the frontrunner. Former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tennessee) also appealed to social conservatives and split the evangelical vote with Huckabee, thus helping McCain win the South Carolina primary.

Now, Marx sees Mitt Romney playing the role of McCain, Santorum playing Huckabee, and Perry or Gingrich is Thompson. If Perry or Gingrich is still in the race, they may help deliver a decisive victory to Romney by splitting the evangelical vote with Santorum.

Olson agrees: “If Perry and Gingrich stay in long enough to contest here in SC (and I am guessing both of them will), they will likely take more votes away from Santorum than they do from Romney. On the other hand, if Perry calls it a day after New Hampshire and endorses Santorum, and if Gingrich decides to take out his anger toward Romney by dropping out himself and endorsing Santorum, Romney could be in for a protracted battle.”

Contact: napp.nazworth@christianpost.com
Source URL : http://www.christianpost.com/news/analysis-can-santorum-unite-the-evangelical-vote-66426/