MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – It had the feeling of a Great Depression tent revival, but the speakers weren’t calling for the participants to come to Jesus, because most of them already have. They were searching for the right words to get politically active Christians in South Carolina to come together before primary voting Saturday.
The five remaining candidates and other key leaders spoke to about 300 people in a tent across from Monday’s debate location, a group that appeared to be mostly undecided evangelical Christians looking for a candidate to settle on.
South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott fired the audience up by asking, “Do you love Jesus? Yes you do!” said Scott as the audience roared.
“Here we are on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but we know now the minority who is under the greatest attack are Christians. I believe we can look no further than the word of God to help save from these attacks,” Scott screamed.
Faith and Freedom founder Ralph Reed, who is no stranger to rallying Christian troops and keeping track of them, sponsored the event. He also is keenly aware that 17 million evangelicals failed to show up to vote in 2008 and argues that if even half of those people don’t cast their votes, then President Obama can serve another four years.
“At our peak during the heyday of the Christian Coalition, we had a database of about 80,000 evangelical voters,” Reed told the crowd. “Because of technology, we have a tremendous amount of data. We know who you are because we’re tracking over 130 million households today.”
Reed’s organization intends to be influential in electing a candidate who will embrace Christian and social conservative principles on life, marriage and the number one issue of Christian voters, repealing Obamacare.
“We’re not looking for our Messiah – we have ours in Jesus Christ,” said Reed said to a round of thundering applause. “Repealing the president’s health care plan is job one for us and it’s our job to find the right person to get us there.”
Finding a Messiah may not be the objective, but finding a new Moses to lead the GOP into the Oval Office is what voters are focused on.
The candidates each took a different approach in their attempt to find their votes. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a strong Christian and now a Romney supporter, introduced the former Massachusetts governor to the throng of supporters.
“I want someone who has nothing to do with the chaos in Washington,” Haley said. “I saw this man cut taxes 19 times in his state and I need someone who will stand up for our military. Finally, I need someone who understands what it takes to create jobs.”
The casually dressed and relaxed Romney was the first to refer to the event as a “tent revival” and he knew a conservative, limited government message was the right one to deliver.
“I realize it’s now us, but that Obama deserves some of the credit for the crowd here today. But I don’t want to change America, I want to restore America to what we once were – one nation under God,” said Romney.
Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel of the ACLJ, endorsed Romney earlier in the week. “I’ve spent a lot of time with Gov. Romney discussing the Middle East and Israel. I am confident that if Mitt Romney – and he will be the next president – he will protect Israel from those who want to destroy it.”
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum reminded the group he was one of them. “I am proud of being on the 2005 ‘Most Influential Evangelicals in America,’” said Santorum. “I was the only non-pastor chosen because I was the point man in the Senate when things needed to get done and I will be your point man on pro-family issues when I am president of the United States.”
Santorum’s remarks were also carefully designed to signal to South Carolina evangelicals that he would fight for their causes even when no one is looking, a tack that some interpreted as criticism of Romney.
“Whoever you choose – whoever is chosen by the people of this state – they won’t be surrounded by conservatives in South Carolina and I will fight for you every day, not just the days you are watching me,” Santorum said.
The crowd took it all in, and seemed still uncommitted just days before the vote. Eddie Sheets is a CPA from Lexington, S.C., and is exactly the type of voter the candidates should be speaking to – an undecided voter. Sheets is torn between Santorum and Perry.
“What happens in South Carolina is very, very important. I’m torn now but I really like how Santorum is handling himself here. I’m going to watch him closely in the next few days before I cast my vote. I just don’t think Gov. Perry can win the nomination at this point.”
Maraide Sullivan, a board member of Faith and Freedom’s South Carolina chapter, goes one step further and thinks that Perry should consider getting out of the race before Saturday’s primary.
“The ramifications are huge,” Sullivan reiterated. “I hope Gov. Perry will consider getting out so voters can choose between Santorum and Gingrich as the candidate who can defeat Romney in the primary. The only way Perry gets out of the race is if a handful of godly men get together and ask him.”
When asked who those men would be, Sullivan shrugged her shoulders and said she didn’t know. “A hero lays down their own dreams and aspirations for a greater cause. That is what I hope Gov. Perry will consider before Saturday.”
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich also agreed that South Carolina would determine who would win the GOP nomination, but in an obvious shot at Romney, warned the crowd they needed to select the right type of Republican.
“Unless a conservative wins on Saturday, we’re going to end up with a moderate who is going to have a tough time against Obama,” said Gingrich. “Life means from conception to death. Gov. Romney wrote Planned Parenthood into Romney care and if I am president I would take all federal funds going to them now and put them into adoption services.”
Gingrich also wants to challenge Obama to a series of unmoderated, Lincoln-Douglas style debates. “I think I can tell more truth with notes than he can with a teleprompter,” said Gingrich to loud applause.
The candidates are making final swings through the Palmetto State before converging on Charleston for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Thursday and Friday.