The South Carolina scramble for social conservatives

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, cross paths at the Faith and Freedom Coalition prayer breakfast in Myrtle Beach on Sunday. Luke Sharrett/The New York Times

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, cross paths at the Faith and Freedom Coalition prayer breakfast in Myrtle Beach on Sunday. Luke Sharrett/The New York Times

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – With the first GOP contest for president in the South down to its final days, three rivals to frontrunner Mitt Romney on Sunday scrambled to persuade social conservatives to unite behind a single opponent and prevent the former Massachusetts governor from running away with the nomination.

Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry just couldn’t agree on who that lone champion should be.

“The question will be whether the people of South Carolina vote their conscience, or will they let people who don’t speak our language tell us who has the best chance of winning,” Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, said at a prayer breakfast here, one day after a group of 150 evangelical leaders in Texas called on conservative Christian voters to rally around his campaign.

Though he did poorly in last week’s New Hampshire primary, Santorum came from the back of a large pack of GOP contenders and missed winning the Iowa caucuses earlier this month by a mere eight votes.

Ralph Reed, leader of the Faith and Freedom Coalition that organized the breakfast, introduced Santorum as “the most effective, conservative, pro-family legislator of this generation,” but said afterwards that he was not endorsing Santorum.

Perry, the Texas governor, appeared at the same breakfast – a prelude to a televised debate tonight – and made a plea intended to cut through worry over his lackluster performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. “Who are you going to trust that has the steady step, that has the balance? I hope each of you will peer into your hearts. Find that individual with the record, the values that represent your heart,” Perry said.

Perry had already left the assembly when conservative author Eric Metaxas, the main speaker at the affair and a Santorum supporter, declared it “likely that some of these wonderful men who are running will hear from God and get out of the race before Saturday for the good of this nation. But that’s in God’s hands and that’s up to those men.”

The scramble for conservative Christian voters in South Carolina began Saturday when dozens of evangelist leaders gathered near Houston in an attempt to reach a consensus on a single opponent to Romney, a Mormon whose past positions on some issues – abortion and health care among them – have made some Republicans wary.

Among those putting their support behind Santorum at the Texas meeting was Tim Echols, the incoming chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission. Gingrich finished second in the balloting, Echols confirmed.

“There were a lot of people comfortable with Newt Gingrich, and I was going back-and-forth for him. Santorum has the whole package. He’s got the orthodox positions, and he’s got the creditability with his wife and family,” Echols said. He intends to campaign for Santorum in South Carolina later this week.

Also at the Houston meeting were the Rev. Richard Lee, pastor of the influential First Redeemer Church of Cumming, Ga., a 2008 supporter of Mike Huckabee, and Mark DeMoss, a Buckhead publicist with ties to the ministries of Billy and Franklin Graham. In the current campaign, as in 2008, DeMoss has acted as a Romney ambassador to evangelical groups in the South and elsewhere.

South Carolina has a 30-year reputation for picking the eventual presidential nominee. Some polls here have shown Romney – winner of the two previous contests in Iowa and New Hampshire — with a strong lead.

Though it might shake up a smooth-running Romney campaign, a late Santorum surge could doom other candidates, including himself, Gingrich conceded on NBC’s “Meet the Press” – after challenging Romney to release his income tax records. Gingrich said he and his wife Callista would do so Thursday.

“I hope every conservative will reach the conclusion that to vote for anybody but Gingrich is, in fact, to help Romney win the nomination and to help him win the primary in South Carolina,” the former U.S. House speaker said. “Winning Our Future,” a political action committee acting in support of Gingrich’s candidacy, is spending $3.4 million on TV and radio ads that blister Romney’s record as a venture capitalist, and the former Massachusetts governor’s past position in support of abortion.

A Romney victory in South Carolina could ease concerns that his Mormon faith would weaken enthusiasm for him among Southern voters in a general election contest. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, has condemned Mormonism as a “cult.”

But Romney had numerous supporters at the Faith and Freedom Coalition prayer breakfast, including Cindy Costa, a member of the Republican National Committee from Charleston County. She pointed to the ground broken by Romney’s previous bid for president in 2008.

“I think people are much more acceptable of it this time around,” Costa said. “If you know Mormon people, they’re just the most precious people in the world. You want one to live on either side of you, ‘cause you know they’re going to take care of you. Why somebody would be opposed to a president with those character qualities, I just can’t understand.”

Others aren’t so sure. The Rev. Derrick Jones is pastor of a Church of God congregation in Seneca, S.C., and gave the invocation at the prayer breakfast. He is undecided in the presidential contest, but thinks the endorsement of Santorum by evangelical leaders in Texas will have some effect.

He agrees Romney’s Mormon faith isn’t drawing as much attention here as it did four years ago. “But at the same time, it’s something to look at. When it comes to faith – do these things line up with what we believe in?” Jones asked.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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23 comments Add your comment

Tom

January 15th, 2012
6:05 pm

If I looked to the oracle at the Temple of Delphi to help me decide who to vote for, people would try to have me committed.

But because Christianity happens to be the most popular version of mythology in this country, we should care what its Pharisee priests have to say about its prospective leaders?

Idiots.

catlady

January 15th, 2012
6:10 pm

A guy from Pennsylvania says, in South Carolina, that another candidate doesn’t speak “our” language? And he thinks HE does?

boib

January 15th, 2012
6:18 pm

@Tom – Good comment, Tom. But I prefer “ignorant” to “idiot”.
Doesn’t look the the Tea Party will have much impact on this year’s presidential election.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all the incumbent congressmen/senators up for election could lose their jobs?

catlady

January 15th, 2012
6:18 pm

Every one of these candidates are awful! Can’t the GOP come up with a candidate who can honestly and forthrightly debate the issues–a candidate who has walked the walk ALL his adult life?

DannyX

January 15th, 2012
6:23 pm

Rick Perry scored major points with Christian conservatives by criticizing President Obama for speaking out against the marines who urinated on Afghan corpses. Perry is now golden with conservative Christian voters.

Obama Sucks

January 15th, 2012
6:58 pm

Why doesn’t the IRS pull the big Black Churches tax exemption for using their church for politics and total support for Democrats? Obama mouthpieces. If a major White Church said the same things about President Obama and the Democrats you people in the mainstreet media and the ACLU folks would be asking the IRS to pull their tax exemption. Black Corruption and Black Racism that’s why. And a spinless White Community and bunch of cowardly Liberals that’s why. http://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta/ebenezer-pastor-criticizes-gingrich-1303603.html

jconservative

January 15th, 2012
7:11 pm

“The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, has condemned Mormonism as a “cult.””

The SBC is the last demonination in the country with the ability to call another denomination a “cult”.

missmollie

January 15th, 2012
7:12 pm

Romney is in for the long haul. He is working 24/7 with his lovely family by his side; A BEAUTIFUL WIFE AND 5 CHILDREN. He is the only candidate that can go toe-to-toe with the incumbent.
Santorum is a conservative Catholic, father of 7 children; lost his Congressional seat; stayed on as a consultant/lobbyist (earmarks); made lots of money; raised the least funds of all the candidates,
and is against everything. He has grand delusions.. I believe Romney will win S C and also Fla. .

[...] Angeles TimesRomney surge continues ahead of South Carolina primaryABC OnlineABC News (blog) -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -MiamiHerald.comall 6,689 news articles » // © 2012 [...]

Aaron

January 15th, 2012
8:11 pm

what “Tom” said!

don’t let the core voters call this election.

Hot Dog

January 15th, 2012
9:06 pm

HEY Obama Sucks…..
January 15th, 2012
6:58 pm
Why doesn’t the IRS pull the big Black Churches tax exemption for using their church for politics and total support for Democrats? Obama mouthpieces. If a major White Church said the same things about President Obama and the Democrats you people in the mainstreet media and the ACLU folks would be asking the IRS to pull their tax exemption. Black Corruption and Black Racism that’s why. And a spinless White Community and bunch of cowardly Liberals that’s why. http://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta/ebenezer-pastor-criticizes-gingrich-1303603.html
*****************************************************************************************************************
YOU HAVE NOW LET EVERYONE KNOW WHAT A STUPID REDNECK YOU ARE WITH COMMENTS LIKE THAT!

HOW ABOUT TELLING THE TEAPUBLICANS AND THE IRS TO PULL TAX EXEMPTIONS FOR THE WHITE MEGA PASTORS LIKE KENNETH THE INCOME TAX CHEAT COPELAND, JOYCE, THE $ 24,000.00 GOLD TOILET SEAT MEYER, JOHN HOOK A CROOK HAGEE,, PAT GOD TOLD ME TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT LYING ROBINSON, PAULA DISAPPEARING INCOME WHITE AND OTHERS OF THAT ILK.

PLEASE CRAWL BACK UNDER THE ROCK. YOU ARE TOO STUPID TO UNDERSTAND WHAT;S REALLY GOING ON IN YOUR OWN REDNECK PARTY!

double

January 15th, 2012
9:42 pm

mitmormex is on a roll.Good title for him.

Centrist

January 15th, 2012
9:45 pm

This GOP nomination was over in 2011 before Iowa. Romney has had the money, organization, endorsements, the Independents who vote in Republican primaries, and the polls. South Carolina’s evangelists were never going to determine the outcome of this nomination process. The media wants a fight and stoked some fires – but it is over until the media attacks Romney and boosts Obama after the conventions.

double

January 15th, 2012
9:57 pm

Centrist have to agree on nomination.Not on media,think they(media) are fair.

double

January 15th, 2012
10:13 pm

what type government do you have under a King?Just asking.

Centrist

January 15th, 2012
10:15 pm

@ double – all Democrats and liberals think the media is fair. All foxes guarding the hen house think they are being fair, too.

td

January 15th, 2012
11:10 pm

catlady

January 15th, 2012
6:18 pm

You are an Obama supporter so it does not matter who the Republicans run because you would still think they were awful.

td

January 15th, 2012
11:17 pm

Hot Dog

January 15th, 2012
9:06 pm

Sounds like someone hit a nerve with you. If you were not feeling guilty then you would not come yelling at people. It is well known that the African American church and African American politicians are very intertwined together. This is just a plain fact and is not even in dispute. To me it is not a big deal and does not bother me but it must bother you deeply.

td

January 15th, 2012
11:20 pm

mikewest

January 15th, 2012
9:54 pm

Why is it all of you Ron Paul supporters want to come on blogs and cut and paste manifesto’s? Ron Paul is a pretty good guy but he will not be nominated by the Republican party and his views on foreign policy eliminates him from being a serious candidate to become President.

[...] LeadersABC NewsSantorum and Gingrich Scramble for the Conservative VoteNew York Times (blog)Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 1,135 news [...]

[...] CarolinaReutersSantorum Backed by Social Conservative LeadersABC NewsNew York Times (blog) -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 1,249 news [...]

cb

January 16th, 2012
7:54 am

We are closing schools, laying people off. Families are being foreclosed on and being put out in the streets. And all Santorum, running for President can talk about is who is Gay. We need to start looking at what is best for the country. We are not in high school any more. Hello!!! Yes it is a good way to raise money. But I think the Republicans have a “gay agenda”, more than the gay community has. They have nothing to say, so they go for the gay! It will be a dark day for ALL of us if this man wins. It is not just a Gay thing; Santorum has frequently stated that he does not believe a “right to privacy” exists under the Constitution, even within marriage. The boy and girl kind!

Obama Sucks

January 16th, 2012
12:14 pm

cb, Don’t wrry so much about being gay. The LORD still loves you and he’s waiting for you to accept him. Repent and Love the LORD JESUS CHRIST. JESUS will forgive you aswell as all of the other sinners I included.