January 13th, 2012
12:33 PM ET

Can meeting of evangelical elites change GOP race?

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - Does a group of more than 150 conservative leaders stand a chance of reshaping the race to the White House? There are reasons for doubt.

Members of the group, which met at a Texas ranch Friday and Saturday, voted Saturday to back GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. Many of the conservative leaders are well past their primes, with declining influence, and the nominating contest is already pretty far along.

The news media has made much of the meeting, which includes such well-known evangelicals as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

The South Carolina primary - a key test of conservative strength - comes just a week after the Texas meeting.

“Some of these evangelical leaders are not as active as they once were in politics and the evangelical movement has changed a little overtime,” says John Green, a political scientist from the University of Akron. “Where this group could have an effect is if they coalesced around one candidate and then helped to provide resources.”

Boots on the ground, phone lists, robocalls, and even the possibility of an evangelical super PAC could move the needle for a candidate, Green said. But the time for such resource-intensive mobilization is growing thin.

"These kind of meetings can have some impact if they can come to a clear resolution six months ago," says Gary Marx, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a national conservative group. "It’s very difficult for a newly formed consensus to turn into strong action in such a short period of time."

Another factor that could dampen the impact of the group meeting in Texas: attendees have already signed up with different candidates.

Bauer is supporting Rick Santorum. American Family Association founder Don Wildmon is backing Newt Gingrich. Other participants have endorsed Rick Perry or Mitt Romney.

"Is it possible that a consensus could be reached? I think it’s possible but not probable," said Perkins, prior to the Saturday vote. " I think what most likely will occur is you will see individual leaders endorse a candidate.”

Bauer says the coalition that's meeting in Texas has been getting together regularly for more than five years around various issues. But there's not always agreement.

"We tried to unite around one candidate in 2008 and were unsuccessful,” he says. “I am skeptical that out of [this meeting] will come any type of consensus.”

Romney is the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination but many social conservative leaders aren't exactly gaga over him.

“I do think there is great concern Romney is not the most conservative candidate in the race,” says Perkins, who helped organize the Texas meeting. “There’s a desire to see a candidate that’s truly conservative and can energize conservative voters and win the general election.

"There will be a discussion about that," he says. "Is there a candidate a consensus could form around that could carry the conservative banner?”

Some who are attending the Texas powwow are frustrated that evangelicals are dividing their influence among a handful of Republican candidates, creating an easier path for Romney.

News of the meeting, happening about halfway between Houston and Austin, leaked out last week and framed the event as part of a search for an anti-Romney candidate. Meeting organizers vehemently deny that notion.

“We’re not having an anti-Romney meeting - it’s not true,” Paul Pressler, a former judge who is hosting the meeting on his ranch, told CNN. “That’s a figment of the imagination of the press. We’re having an anti-Obama meeting.”

Pressler served in the Texas state legislature as a Democrat until 1993. He has said that “the Democratic Party left me.”

Bauer said that if meeting was aimed to stop a particular candidate, "I would focus my attention on Ron Paul, not Mitt Romney.”

But Perkins said the leaders may come to the conclusion it is time to press certain candidates to leave the race, which he said was a lesson of the 2008 race, when Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson split some evangelical votes in South Carolina and elsewhere.

“There could be a consensus arrived at that would maybe nudge candidates to maybe step out before it’s too late," Perkins said.

Supporters of various candidates are expected to talk up their picks at the meeting, focusing on where each candidate stands economic and social issues.

But some conservative Christian leaders oppose the very idea of the meeting.

“I think group think isn’t the way to go,” Bob Vander Plaats, President of the conservative Family Leader in Iowa said. “We have too many pro-family candidates in the race.  If we dilute our support Romney will win.”

Vander Plaats personally endorsed Santorum. Although he received an invitation Pressler's ranch event, he won’t be attending.

“The leaders who lead these organizations know what to do,” he said.
“I would say switch your tickets and go to South Carolina or Florida where you can help.”

“From my angle, leaders are called to lead," he added. "I don’t think they should be watching the dance play out from the sidelines.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Politics

soundoff (586 Responses)
  1. atomD21

    How can any of them endorse Newt Gingrich and still consider themselves traditional Christians? That being said, the Evangelical Community needs to spend less time trying to force their particular brand of morality on everyone else and devote more time to, I don't know, doing what Jesus actually instructed in the gospels! Considering how jockeying for political influence and power is the complete opposite of what he did, maybe they should just drop it.

    January 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Mary had a little nail that she stabbed jesus in the throat with and her hands were red with blood.

      They should devote more time working for a living instead of believing in fairy tales.

      January 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  2. Ricky Bobby

    Here's an idea...how about religious leaders leave church to church and state to state! This whole article seems reminiscent of the Nicene creed or Vatican. If all religious leaders were to agree to coalesce around one candidate, it seems to suggest that not one of them can think for themselves.

    January 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • atomD21

      How can you say such things!? In our Christian Nation! Oh wait, that's right, we're not. You're spot on. Religion needs to be removed from political influence, just like corporate money does. Both are sources of corruption in our secular government. It's fine to tell a congregation to pray before they vote, but not who they should then vote for. The separation of church and state goes both ways, and only the Religious Right (Moral Majority, Values Voters, etc.) seem to forget that.

      January 13, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  3. SafeJourney

    America, do you want these evangelical to run our country or to be envolved in government in ANY WAY???? Take a GOOD look at Iran people. That type of government is what happens when religion (ANY RELIGION) gets involved in government., Think about that when you vote in 2012

    January 13, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • SafeJourney

      sorry for the spelling errors. Had to type fast at work

      January 13, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • atomD21

      Great points! As much as they would say they aren't like Muslims, it wouldn't be long before the Bill of Rights became a memory. As a more liberal Christian, I shudder to think what would happen if we actually became a Christian Nation...

      January 13, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  4. Gayle

    Evangelicals should remember that a Christ-like life does not include religious bigotry.

    January 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • atomD21

      They must have missed that Sunday School lesson.

      January 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Why is church on Sunday anyway? What about football? I don't get that one. Big fail.

      January 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  5. Debbie

    Meeting of the evangelical elites...Sounds like the Sanhendrin. It's politics before Christ.

    January 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • atomD21

      Yeah, the church has become the pharisees. There was something I read once about what happens to those who fail to learn from history...

      January 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  6. Randy, San Francisco

    Let us hope what happens in Texas, stays in Texas.

    January 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Well them good ‘ol boy up to the N ranch you know get some that dang ‘ol BBQ with beans gitta talking bout the good Lord you know and so faith we be needin’ somebody what is a Christian up there in that dang ‘ol white house and what not pass the corn on the cob partner

      January 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • innkahoots

      So what there telling us, is that a bunch of religous 1%ers, are going to the Texas branch of the 1%ers ranch, to discuss which candidate will best do thier bidding.

      January 13, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      And have a dang 'ol BBQ.

      January 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • fred

      Central we have a George alert in progress.

      January 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    January 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      There you are, I was getting worried.

      January 13, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Jiminy Cricket

      When you wish upon a star
      Your dreams come true

      If your heart is in your dreams
      No request is too extreme

      January 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • fred

      What has been changed?

      January 13, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • just sayin

      changed by prayer? the repentant sinner for one

      January 13, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  8. Justaminit

    Why is it that I can't stand Tony?

    January 13, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  9. Mary had a little nail that she stabbed jesus in the throat with and her hands were red with blood.

    Why do these fairy tale-beliving pieces of sh1t think it's ok to get involved with politics? We don't need these worthless, delusional idiots involved with government or any other facet of this country. Religious nutjobs are always ranting about how we're all going to burn in hell. So let's drill a hole to the core of the Earth and throw all of them into it. Since they all like to talk about it so much, let them experience it so their wildest dreams can come true.

    January 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Mary–Take a deep breath. Again, a deep breath. And one more time, a deep breath. There. Don't you feel better?

      January 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Bible Fun for Friday!


      God won't let bas.tards attend church. Neither can the sons or daughters
      of bas.tards "even to the tenth generation." So if you plan to attend
      church next Sunday be ready to prove that your genitals are intact and
      don't forget your birth certificate and genealogical records for at
      least the last ten generations. Don't laugh. This stuff is important to
      God. 23:2

      God gives us instructions for defecating. He says to carefully cover up
      all feces "for the Lord walketh in the midst of thy camp." (You wouldn't
      want the divine foot to step in your sh.i.t, would you?) 23:12-14

      January 13, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Central...you've already posted this one today. Be careful: someone might confuse you with Reality.

      January 13, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Mary had a little nail that she stabbed jesus in the throat with and her hands were red with blood.

      David Lee Roth is a better singer, and he didn't ruin Van Halen by forcing the band to do nothing but crappy love songs. Also, I'm quite relaxed, thanks.

      January 13, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      I dig reality. That is why I am an Athiest.

      January 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • fred

      I guess not everyone followed the rules because Moses had to take his sandles off when apporaching the burning bush.

      January 13, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      When I approach a burning bush, I put on a rain coat!

      January 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • VanHagar

      The breathing exercise did help then? DLR is better than Sammy so mea culpa on the handle–but it does tend to incite the occasional reaction that VH wouldn't so I'll keep it for now.

      January 13, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Mary had a little nail that she stabbed jesus in the throat with and her hands were red with blood.

      I don't need to perform breathing exercises. I'm not the one that believes in fairy tales.

      January 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • VanHagar


      What a great retort! I succu.mb to your wit.

      January 13, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  10. Justaminit


    January 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  11. anagram_kid

    G*d came to me in a dream and told me he is voting for Obama... again.

    January 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Barbara

      Wow, I had the same dream!!!

      January 13, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Sorry, that was actually me with my Santa suit on. I have been practicing Astral Projection.....it is only creepy if you think about it.

      January 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • fred

      Yieks I actually thought about it, thanks for keeping the suit on.

      January 13, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      I warned you Fred.

      January 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  12. lebowski1776

    America is built on the idea of being all inclusive. The more segregated you are to your own beliefs the less American you are. I'm not saying don't have your own beliefs. Of course, have them. I'm not saying you have to agree with everyone else. Don't. Disagreement is the fuel of Democracy, but Mutual Respect and compromise are the engine that harnesses those disagreements into something new and constructive. America wasn't founded to be a Christian Nation. It was founded to be a nation with Religious Freedom, Christian being one of them. If Christians can't respect that – they are quickly approaching the same intolerance as Al Quaeda extremists who believe their beliefs are 'the one true way'. We don't roll like that in America. People here worship as they choose, and we may not agree with them, but we respect their freedom to do so. THAT is something worth fighting for.

    January 13, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  13. Jones

    Who every they endorse they are about to look like a bunch of hypocrites.

    January 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  14. Jilli

    Hmm...once you involve "religious leaders" in making political decisions, you're walking on a slippery slope – especially giving them this much influence in a political party. I want no part of that party, and the candidate they choose. I still believe in the separation of church and state.

    January 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  15. Duke One

    Wow, the establishment really wants Romney to be the nominee !! Too bad for them that most of us want an anti Rommney.

    January 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • The Central Scrutinizer

      Obama 2012

      January 13, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  16. teena

    Are they going to Rick Perry's ranch?

    January 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  17. TR6

    The selection of a candidate by this group will be the kiss of death. Official certification that he is a Christian nut case. Loony enough to satisfy evangelicals longing for a theocracy

    January 13, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  18. glennrobert

    They would like to get rid of Paul and Romney and that leaves, who?

    January 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  19. The Central Scrutinizer

    Yes, using undiscovered evidence I have concluded they are meeting at N i g g er head Ranch.

    January 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  20. Dennis

    I definitely will vote the opposite of their choices not matter who the canidate is. These snake oil salesmen are all hypocrites. How many big time evangelists, that live like the Newt, do as I say not as I do, does it take for the sheep to wake up and see that they are being fleeced.

    January 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.