(Reuters/ Chris Keane)
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Rick Santorum, who just received the endorsement of a group of some 150 influential Christian conservatives on Saturday, addressed a packed room of over 400 Christian activists Sunday at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s prayer breakfast.
Santorum appeared to be at ease as he took the podium. The former Pennsylvania senator expressed that he was humbled by the major endorsement, but other than that, did not spend much time dwelling on the news.
“I feel blessed that over 150 Christian leaders could ‘miraculously’ come together and support my candidacy,” he said. “But my question to you this morning is will the people of South Carolina vote their conscience or let others who don’t speak our language choose our candidate.”
Santorum gained 74.5 percent of the votes on the third ballot Saturday from the group of more than 150 social conservative leaders meeting in Texas. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich came in a far second, with 25.5 percent of the vote.
“People are telling me they are tired of the GOP compromising their principles and I agree,” said Santorum at the prayer breakfast. “It is time to stand up for America and our allies around the world.”
Santorum was well received by attendees at the event and received a rousing, standing ovation at the conclusion of his remarks.
The FFC-hosted event Sunday, which includes a presidential kick-off in the afternoon, launches a week of major events in the Palmetto State that includes two televised debates, The Response prayer rally and the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Charleston that will bring together the region’s most active and influential politicos.
FFC founder Ralph Reed is hoping to use his coalition and its events to mobilize an army of grassroots activists nationwide who will in turn work to get Christian voters to the polls in numbers never seen before.
“We had a great organization in the Christian Coalition in the 1990s, but as they say in the South, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet,’” exclaimed Reed, who formerly headed the Christian Coalition. “We know that defeating President Obama is the most expedient path to overturning Obamacare and getting more people back to work.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who received polite applause as he began and ended his remarks, reminded attendees the reason why South Carolina is so important is since 1980, the winner has gone on to claim the Republican nomination.
“Iowa and New Hampshire are good at whittling down the field, but South Carolina elects presidents,” remarked Perry.
The Texas governor may have reason to be concerned though. In the latest Rasmussen poll of South Carolina voters, Perry’s support came in at only 6 percent, a far cry from Romney’s 28 percent or Santorum’s 16 percent.
South Carolina State Rep. Chip Limehouse, however, is unfazed by the recent poll numbers. Limehouse is supporting Perry and introduced him at the prayer breakfast.
“The real Rick Perry is about creating jobs in Texas and apparently we haven’t done a great job of getting that news out,” Limehouse said. “Endorsements are great but the only one that matters is the one on Saturday and I think Rick’s numbers will speak for themselves.”
Recent retirees Gary and Joyce Goers were among those who attended the early morning breakfast and stated that they share Reed’s goal of wanting to see someone else in the White House.
“My only concern is that President Obama is out of office,” said Mr. Goers. “I don’t see a future for my children and grandchildren by redistributing wealth. I worked hard to save a little money and retire comfortably and want future generations to be able to do the same.”
The Goers, however, have not settled on a GOP candidate. The couple said before hearing Santorum and Perry speak that they were torn between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Santorum.
“As Christians we want to support someone whose beliefs are similar to ours,” said Mrs. Goers. “But we also want to see President Obama out of office.”
This same dilemma will most likely be played out in the minds of thousands of voters this week, which is why Romney, who will speak at the FRC event later on Sunday, will be making the case that he is the best candidate to go head-to-head against Obama.
In addition to Romney, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul will also speak at the afternoon FFC event on Sunday.
The Fox News-South Carolina GOP Debate will take place Monday evening, leading up to the much anticipated South Carolina primary on Saturday, Jan. 21.