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Thursday, Apr 24, 2014

Why Did Social Conservative Leaders Pick Santorum?

  • (Photo: Reuters/Chris Keane)
    Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum smiles during a meet and greet at Crady's Restaurant in Conway, South Carolina January 15, 2012.
January 16, 2012|9:16 am

A supermajority of over 150 social conservative leaders decided to throw their support behind presidential candidate Rick Santorum at a Saturday meeting in Texas. Why Santorum? And, why now?

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins held a conference call with reporters after the meeting. Also, the day before the meeting, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a senior editor for The Christian Post, was interviewed on C-Span. Land and Perkins both gave clues as to why Santorum was the choice.

At the meeting, surrogates for each of the candidates (except Huntsman) made their case before the group. Then three separate secret ballots were taken. On the first ballot, Santorum won 57 votes; Newt Gingrich, 48 votes; Rick Perry, 13 votes; Mitt Romney, three votes; and Ron Paul, one vote.

The second ballot was between the top two finishers and Santorum nabbed 70 votes to Gingrich's 49 votes.

The participants had agreed that they would only unify their support behind a single candidate if one candidate were to get at least two-thirds support. The third ballot would, therefore, be the real test.

If social conservatives continued to split their support between Gingrich and Santorum, neither candidate would have much chance at winning the nomination. Together, though, these leaders and the organizations they represent would have more influence on the outcome of the race.

Would enough Gingrich supporters switch their support to Santorum in the interest of building a unified coalition?

On the third ballot, Santorum got 85 votes, about 75 percent, to Gingrich's 29 votes. This suggests that 15 Gingrich supporters switched their vote on the third ballot. (Five Gingrich supporters did not vote on the third ballot.)

The impetus behind the meeting, according to Perkins, was a desire to not repeat what happened in 2008. In that election, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was the preferred candidate among many social conservative voters, but social conservative leaders were slow to throw their support behind his candidacy. As a result, Sen. John McCain, one of the social conservatives’ least preferred candidates, won the nomination.

Many social conservative leaders harbor regrets about that election and do not want to see that mistake repeated, with Romney now in the role of McCain (though many admit they prefer Romney to McCain).

“I think there's considerable remorse, on the part of evangelical and other social conservative leaders, they didn't try to unite behind Mike Huckabee earlier when it could've done him more good and maybe made a difference in his race against McCain in 2008,” Land said.

Why would these leaders wait until now to back Santorum? There was a similar meeting last summer in Texas with Texas Governor Perry. Many believed, at the time, that Perry would become the candidate that social conservatives would unite behind. Perry, however, was a disappointment.

After he left the meeting with Perry, Land thought, “I don't know how Gov. Perry and Mrs. Perry could've done any better than they did in their interactions with social conservative leaders, and since then, I don't know how he could've done any worse.”

“If Mr. Perry had fulfilled expectations,” Land said, “there wouldn't be the need for this type of meeting. But, after the goofs and the gaffes and the missteps, the Perry campaign, I think most social conservatives feel, at least this go-around, it's not going to happen.”

Perry's scant 13 votes on the first ballot indicates that Land was correct about the disillusionment with Perry's performance.

Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, has better name recognition and has polling in second place behind Romney in South Carolina. So, why was Santorum seen as a better choice among a majority of social conservative leaders?

Looking at Gingrich, Perry and Santorum, Land said, they all have weaknesses, but Santorum's weaknesses are the easiest to correct.

“Mr. Gingrich has got baggage, some would call it freight, and I think his negative campaign is not helping him. Brilliant guy, but unpredictable.”

“Then you've got Rick Perry, a world-beater in August. If he had laryngitis he would still be the front-runner. ... The goofs and the gaffes are going to be awfully difficult to overcome,” Land explained.

Santorum's negatives are his low levels of name recognition and he has not raised much money.

Santorum “has a residue of trust from social conservatives across the country,” Land said, “because in the Senate he was willing to carry our water when no one else would.

“His negatives are easier to fix, short term, than the other two.”

The South Carolina primary will be Saturday, Jan. 21.

Contact: napp.nazworth@christianpost.com
Source URL : http://www.christianpost.com/news/why-did-social-conservative-leaders-pick-santorum-67225/