Christian leaders are beginning to quietly press Newt Gingrich to step out of the GOP presidential race, with some saying that there are a substantial number of large campaign donors sitting on the sidelines waiting for more clarity on who is the GOP's faith-based candidate.
"Newt has spent most of his adult life running for president," Richard Viguerie, chairman of conservativeHQ.com, told The Christian Post. "I don't want Newt to stop fighting. I just want him to fight in a productive manner and I think him leaving the race and joining our cause would be best. Newt can play a major role in shaping policy, but he can't do it with a moderate Republican president."
Santorum's primary victories in Mississippi and Alabama were as much as a surprise to his camp as they were a celebratory moment. Pre-election polls showed a tight race between Santorum, Gingrich and Mitt Romney, but few predicted Santorum would win both states.
"I kept waiting to hear that Santorum's dual victory was going to be trumped by a last minute ballot box coming in at midnight," said one southern campaign manager who asked not to be identified. "His slim victories may not have produced a large number of delegates but the momentum he has captured has been incredible."
While momentum is good, well-funded momentum is even better and pundits are starting to ask if Santorum has the strength and message to attract enough wealthy donors.
"That's the 64 thousand dollar question," said one-time GOP hopeful and Christian leader Gary Bauer. "Candidates that are willing to talk about values and economic issues have found it harder to raise funds from what are known as 'bundlers,' or people who raise large sums from multiple sources. There is still a lot of money on the sidelines."
But it was Gingrich's final numbers that have political experts questioning how he can stay in the race with any hopes of winning the nomination. Gingrich maintained he would win the southern states, allowing him to put pressure on Santorum to exit.
In his latest Crystal Ball newsletter, University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato predicts Romney still has an 80 percent shot in securing the nomination based on the number of delegates Romney will probably pick up in April.
Gingrich's decision to remain in the race will obviously play a large role in what happens in April and May.
Richard Land, who heads the Southern Baptist's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has conversed with Romney, Gingrich and Santorum over the course of the election. "At one point people were trying to get Rick out of the race and he was wise not to take their advice," Land told The Christian Post. "Now Rick has momentum and Gingrich has to determine what his role in the campaign will be."
Bauer was a bit more to the point. "Newt has done so much for the conservative cause and no one wants to see his influence diminished," said Bauer. "I do think it would change the dynamics if Newt got out but at this point it may be too personal for me. If there is any discussion on the subject, it needs to take place behind the scenes."
Where Gingrich's supporters could go is also a point of discussion among politicos. A recent New York Times poll found 57 percent of Gingrich's supporters would go to Santorum, others estimate that as many as two-thirds could go to the former Pennsylvania senator.
The latest Public Policy Polling survey of North Carolina voters shows a close three-way race, however, if Gingrich were to exit the race. It shows Santorum would capture about 42 percent of the vote compared to Romney's 38 percent. Texas Congressman Ron Paul would take about 10 percent.
As to the strategy of what is known as a "brokered" convention, or one where the GOP nominee would be chosen in a contested floor vote, some of the top conservative leaders say that would not be good for the party.
"It's a horrible idea and it would be disastrous to the Republican Party," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins in a conversation with CP. "We need a clear front-runner who can unite the party and that's what is happening in the primaries. I'm confident the process will work before August."